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AOL two-way pager calls up email, IMs

The Net giant unveils a new paging device that will let people send and receive email and AOL instant messages.

America Online on Thursday unveiled a two-way paging device that handles email and AOL instant messages.

AOL members can go online to purchase the AOL Mobile Communicator, which costs $329.95. To use the product, members have to pay for a wireless service, which will run over BellSouth's networks. Dulles, Va.-based AOL is charging a flat fee of $19.95 per month for unlimited use to send and receive mail.

Gartner analyst Abha Garg says AOL Mobile Communicator is yet another mobile device in an already crowded market, but the online giant's huge subscriber base will give it a lift in the market.

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The pager is part of AOL's Anywhere strategy, the company's plan to reach beyond traditional PCs and computer networks into the heavily touted areas of wireless communications, traditional broadcast media and Net-enabled devices.

AOL said the new pager comes with a built-in mini-keyboard that allows people to type instant messages and reply to email. To access the AOL instant messaging and email services from the device, members sign on with their AOL screen name. Members don't have a pager number to memorize as with traditional pagers, the company said.

Earlier this year, AOL announced an alliance with Research In Motion, which makes the BlackBerry email pager. Some analysts expected AOL to release the paging device last month.

A spokeswoman for RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, confirmed that the new pager is a result of its pact with AOL. Although RIM developed the pager, AOL designed the software and the device will primarily be an AOL product.

AOL has also been active on the interactive device front. Earlier this month, the company teamed with PC maker Gateway to lauch a Web-surfing appliance for homes called the Gateway Connected Touch Pad.

Like rivals Yahoo and Microsoft, AOL has been active in emerging markets, aiming to further tap into high-growth areas such as the wireless Web and interactive television.