The carrier on Tuesday began selling a package that lets people send and receive 250,000 wireless messages a month for a fee of $10,000. Though the price tag would seem to be out of reach for most individual customers, the offer is open to anyone, as long as they are approved by the carrier.
The approval process stems from concern that marketing companies will buy the messages just to send spam, or unsolicited messages, to wireless phone users. But Drew McCahill, AT&T Wireless' director of enterprise offers, said the company plans to cancel any deals it has with customers if they abuse the system.
McCahill added that subscribers who want to buy more messages, even into the millions, would also be accommodated.
Wireless carriers are counting on messaging being a big hit with subscribers, and AT&T Wireless' offer is among the most dramatic examples of that effort. Carriers are looking for new sources of revenue to make up for the falling price of a phone call. Subscribers are generally charged between 4 cents and 10 cents to send a short wireless message. It is generally free to receive one.
Businesses were expected to be major users of wireless messaging on cell phones, but they have been slow to take to it. The 160-character missives that run over a wireless carrier's phone network are limited in size, don't contain attachments, and are often slow to arrive because of network traffic. As a result, businesses are still using competing devices like Research in Motion's BlackBerry pager for wireless messaging.
AT&T Wireless thinks the cost-effectiveness of bulk messages will attract more businesses and people to wireless messaging. McCahill said business users such as real estate agents could exchange wireless message alerts about a price change on a home, and airlines could use the messages to update customers about flight status.
"We're hoping this offer will help wireless messaging gain some traction," McCahill said. "I expect most other carriers to offer something like this; some are already investigating it."
Some of the other companies targeted by the offer are message resellers, companies like Axiom Navigation in Costa Mesa, Calif., which buys time on a wireless carrier's network, then resells the time to customers. These companies are also starting to sell bulk wireless messaging, but nowhere near the amount that AT&T Wireless is now making available.
"The prices look interesting," said Jock Christie, Axiom's business development director. "We've been waiting to hear from AT&T about this for months."