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Cordless phones get the message

New landline phones due from Panasonic will be able to exchange text messages with computers and wireless devices, including cell phones.

Panasonic in two weeks will begin selling a new breed of cordless phones that exchanges text messages with computers and wireless devices, including cell phones, the company said on Monday.

Adding the messaging service, called SMS (Short Message Service), to cordless phones is telephone manufacturers' reaction to the growing number of people abandoning their landline service for cell phones.

"This is what carriers are doing to fight back, or at least stop the decrease," said Howard Gutowitz, chief executive of Eatoni Ergonomics, which makes text messaging software inside the Panasonic cordless phones.

Panasonic competitors Philips and Siemens have already begun selling SMS cordless phones, and Matsushita plans to introduce them soon, according to sources.

Like the other SMS cordless phones, the Panasonic phones, model KX-TCD755, will debut in Europe and Asia, where sending e-mail over the phone isn't as rare as it is in the United States, Gutowitz said.

Panasonic's phone is not expected to be available in the United States for another year, at least.

SMS, which sends text messages of no longer than 160 characters, has been available to U.S. cell phone users for several years. But while about 30 billion SMS messages are exchanged between cell phones each month in Europe, only about 350 million a year are exchanged in the United States.

Only 3 percent to 6 percent of people in the United States own cell phones in place of landline phones, according to research firm The Yankee Group. But that could soon grow to about 10 percent in less than two years, other analysts believe. About 94 percent of all U.S. households have both landline phone service and cordless phones.

If American store shelves ever stock SMS cordless phones, it won't be until Americans are sending more SMS on cell phones, sources said Monday.

Another drawback for cordless SMS phones is their price. They cost about 10 percent to 15 percent more than regular cordless phones because of the software they need to send and receive messages.

In addition, carriers that already sell cordless phones with SMS service haven't had much luck. British landline telephone company British Telecommunications began offering them a few months ago, but while it's selling thousands of the phones, customers have been exchanging only a few SMS messages every month, BT recently told investors.