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Qwest to turn on wireless voice portal

The company says it will offer Weblike voice-portal access over its wireless phone service, becoming the first of the big mobile carriers to turn on this type of feature.

Qwest Communications International said Monday it would offer Weblike voice-portal access over its wireless phone service, becoming the first of the big mobile carriers to turn on this type of feature.

The new function, available in the old US West Wireless territory, will provide voice-activated access to such information as news, traffic information, driving directions and weather over wireless phones.

The move marks another critical endorsement for the young voice-portal business, which has attracted considerable attention from investors and Web companies, but has yet to filter into the mass-market consciousness.

It also marks a new business push for BeVocal, one of the leaders in the voice-portal business that is leaning toward creating voice service for big telecommunications companies. Other rivals, such as Tellme and Quack.com, have already moved down the path of partnering with big telephone and Web companies.

The voice-activated Net idea is gaining ground as companies look for an alternative to wireless data. Bandwidth limitations and difficult-to-use interfaces have kept consumer adoption of mobile data services slow, although analysts say this will improve as new technologies bring faster download speeds and more intuitive interfaces to phones.

Companies like Tellme Networks and BeVocal offer access to much the same kinds of information provided through wireless Net technologies, but instead are accessible with a phone call and a voice-recognition interface. These small companies' portals have drawn some interest, but Web companies including America Online and Lycos have also adopted the idea.

AOL turned on its own service, run by Quack.com, last week.

The Qwest initiative isn't the first significant sign of interest in the idea from the telecommunications world, although most mobile phone companies have kept mum on the model. AT&T's business services division led a $60 million investment stake in Tellme earlier this year, with an eye toward offering customers their own voice sites.

Qwest is based in Denver, Colo.