You've Got Mail (On Your Phone)
By Joachim Bamrud, Thu Jun 07 00:00:00 GMT 2001

All of the major U.S. Internet portals - and their e-mail services - can now be accessed through wireless devices in the United States. The latest: Voice-activated e-mail.


While the United States may lag behind Europe when it comes to mobile telephony and SMS, it is the undisputed king of e-mail sent through the fixed Internet. Now, portals and operators are hoping that success can spill over to wireless devices as well.

It is unclear exactly how many e-mail messages are being sent through wireless devices in the United States today, but one indication of the potential is provided by MSN. The Internet portal, which includes Hotmail, reports 2.6 million unique users of its MSN Mobile wireless service.

"Wireless e-mail is attracting an increasingly larger segment of users who desire to stay in continous touch with their organizations," Gartner Group analyst Ken Dulaney wrote in a recent report on wireless e-mail in the United States.

With the occasional crash of PCs or Internet connections, e-mail through wireless phones also serve as a useful back-up for reading and sending urgent messages.

Some operators point to the widespread availability of e-mail through phones as one reason why SMS may not be picking up as fast as in Europe.

Various methods


U.S. consumers can get e-mail on their phone through various ways. They can either use the e-mail address provided by the operator (yourphonenumber@messaging.operator.com) or use their regular private or work e-mail.

For private mail, users can use the wireless web to access the relevant sites of AOL, MSN, Yahoo and other portals. These sites offer the ability to reply (with the sender appearing as yourname@aol.com) plus full synchronization with the database. That means that after reading and deleting sixteen e-mails on your phone, you won't find them when you access the AOL site through your desktop.

However, not all the major Internet portals are included in the wireless portals of the major operators. MSN, for example, is only on Verizon, Sprint PCS, Cingular and Nextel. Similarly, AOL is only included in the portals of Sprint PCS, AT&T Wireless and VoiceStream, while Yahoo can be found on AT&T, Sprint PCS and Cingular.

Some analysts predict that it's only a matter of time before AOL, the largest Internet portal, is on all the operators' wireless portals.

"It would surprise me if it wasn't within a few years time," says Robin Hearn, senior analyst at Ovum.

VoiceStream is the latest to add AOL. In addition to access through wireless phones, subscribers are now able to use AOL's instant messaging service (AIM) through SMS.

AOL can also be accessed directly through its wireless web address or through search engines like Google, which can access HTML sites from wireless phones. However, not all the operators' wireless web portals permit access to any site not included in their portals.

Voice access


Perhaps more appealing: AOL members can check their e-mail through a new service, AOLbyPhone. After dialing 1-800-AOL-1234 and going through the necessary commands, users can access e-mail and reply with a free two-minute domestic phone call to the sender.

On May 21, Sprint PCS launched a voice-activated service that enables users to listen and respond to their e-mails on accounts from Yahoo, EarthLink, Prodigy, NetZero, AmExMail and Sprint.

These voice e-mail services are, in fact, ahead of Europe, where voice-activated Internet on phones is still lagging behind the United States.

In addition to wireless phones, there are other devices that provide wireless e-mail access. Not surprisingly, Microsoft's Pocket PC provides access to its MSN portal.

But, unlike Europe, paging devices are becoming hugely popular channels for communications. Of these, two stand out: The BlackBerry, produced by Canada's RIM and also known as "CrackBerry" due to its addictiveness, and the Motorola T900, a less expensive pager with strong appeal to teenagers (see Joachim Bamrud is an award-winning journalist with 17 years experience as a writer and editor in the United States, Europe and Latin America. Bamrud has worked for various print, broadcast and online media, including Latin Trade, Reuters and UPI. He can be reached at jbamrud@hotmail.com.