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AOL inks wireless partnerships, unveils Mobile Messenger

America Online announces deals with Motorola, BellSouth, Sprint PCS and others to extend its online products to cellular telephone and pager services.

America Online's wireless strategy is coming into focus.

The Internet juggernaut today announced deals with Motorola, BellSouth, Sprint PCS, Nokia, Research in Motion and Arch Communications to extend its Internet products to cellular telephone and pager services. AOL also unveiled "AOL Mobile Messenger," a wireless version of its popular email and AOL Instant Messenger products.

In addition, AOL said it has joined the WAP Forum, a wireless standards organization in which Excite@Home also recently enlisted.

AOL joins several Internet players--including Yahoo, Amazon.com, Microsoft and Excite@Home--that are aggressively developing wireless services. According to market research firm The Yankee Group, there will be more than 1 billion mobile phone users by 2003, with about 60 percent capable of accessing the Internet.

Net companies are rushing into wireless to hold onto their existing customers. As more people begin accessing the Internet via wireless devices, companies are making sure they can provide non-PC access to their services.

That's exactly the case with AOL's announcements today. The deals will allow people to communicate through their wireless devices using AOL's email and AIM services. Furthermore, AOL will offer content, such as news headlines and stock quotes, through alliances such as the one with Sprint PCS.

The deals bring together a range of partners through which AOL can deliver various pieces of its wireless strategy, as follows:

• Motorola and AOL will develop a co-branded wireless "smart phone" device, called "TimePort P935," that will support AOL Mobile Messenger. The deal expands on a similar agreement between the companies last October. They plan to begin shipping the product by the end of 2000.

• BellSouth will offer AOL Mobile Messenger services using BellSouth's Intelligent Wireless Network-enabled devices.

• AOL will develop a version of its AIM service for Nokia's cell phones and wireless devices.

• AOL will allow Sprint PCS customers to access wireless versions of its content and services--such as email, news, weather and stock quotes--on its Web phone service.

• AOL agreed to a 3-year deal to use Arch Communications' ReFlex 25 wireless instant messaging technology to power the AOL Mobile Messenger service. AOL also will offer email and AIM on devices using Arch's technology.

• Research in Motion, which produces instant email devices such as the Blackberry pager, will offer AOL email and AIM to its users. The companies also will develop a co-branded device to offer AOL's wireless services.

Today's announcement is See news analysis: AOL sees its future offline part of the company's "AOL Anywhere" strategy--its push to put its services on non-PC devices. It recently gave Wall Street a peek at its AOL TV service, a version of its online service that offers more interactivity to TV programming.

"Our goal is to ensure that this wireless revolution will be both easy and accessible for our 21 million members, plus the tens of millions of consumers that use of our Web brands and millions of other consumers accessing the Internet via the wireless platform," AOL chief executive Steve Case said in a statement.

Today's announcement comes days after AOL appointed former Federal Communications Commission chairman Dennis Patrick to head its new AOL Wireless unit.

The announcement also coincides with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association conference in New Orleans. AOL chief executive Steve Case was scheduled to speak today; Microsoft's Bill Gates and Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos also are headline speakers at the conference.