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Verizon pushing "push" into business

Verizon Wireless unveils a new service that uses much maligned "push technology" to alert someone about a voice mail left at the office.

Verizon Wireless unveiled a new service Monday that uses much maligned "push technology" to alert someone about a voice mail left at the office.

"Office Message Alert" dispatches an e-mail to a cell phone whenever a voice mail is recorded on an office phone. People can access the voice mail just by replying to the wireless message, said Brenda Rainey, a Verizon Wireless representative.

The new service is the latest example of how the technology called "push"--which refers to the practice of automatically sending information to wireless devices or personal computers--is expanding into business services that wireless carriers now offer.

Most carriers have embraced push to make up for lost revenue amid intense competition. Carriers can profit from push technology because, unlike the wired Web, wireless e-mails cost money to both send and receive.

"We are seeing the evolution of the (push) application and how companies are incorporating it into their daily lives as a productivity tool," Rainey said.

Office Message Alert is available now, but only to Verizon Wireless' corporate cell phone customers, she said. The price for the new service is open to "negotiation," she said. It works on any phone capable of sending and receiving wireless e-mails.

Wireless analyst Keith Waryas of IDC thinks the new service adds up to an extra $240 a year per person. His estimate assumes Verizon Wireless is charging the industry average of a nickel for every wireless message sent, calculating 15 and 20 voice mails per day.

"At a time when companies are cutting back, something that adds only a small amount of productivity might not be worth it in the short term," he said.

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Promoted by companies such as PointCast in the early days of the Web, push technology was hyped as one of the Net's first "killer apps." The idea seemed solid: Rather than surfing several Web sites to locate tidbits of data, consumers would choose information such as sports scores or news they wanted "pushed" to their PCs.

The concept withered for a variety of reasons, including the increased use of broadband connections and tools that made surfing more efficient.

Cell phones have picked up where push fell down. Web surfing over mobile phones still remains a cumbersome task because of cramped keypads, slow download times, and generally clunky interfaces. Although the number of people who download mobile data from their cell phones remains small--estimated at less than 9 percent in the United States last year--push technology is catching on.

"We have seen some carriers have a greater desire to provide a number of different types of services to push information to handsets," said Tim Lorello, chief marketing officer of TeleCommunication Systems, which is providing Verizon Wireless with the network equipment and software needed to offer the service.