Cingular dials into wireless workplace

Cingular Wireless is selling access to workplace e-mail from cell phones--but will text messaging end up being a sour disappointment for carriers?

Cingular Wireless on Monday began selling access to workplace e-mail from cell phones.

Cingular's "Xpress Mail" is the latest example of new services slowly filtering into both business and personal calling plans as carriers begin to use the high-speed phone networks built during the past few years.

Cingular, Verizon Wireless and others hope to sell new services like downloading music to make up for their high construction costs. But so far, the services have been more mundane, mostly sending e-mails or instant messages.

"Music is coming, but this is a real application," said Tim Hogan, Cingular executive director of business marketing.

Analysts say relying on text messaging could be a big disappointment for carriers. Last year, there were about 176 million e-mails sent between cell phones in the United States, according to Scott Ellison, program director of wireless and mobile communications for analyst firm IDC.

Next year, Ellison believes that number will increase to 1.5 billion wireless e-mails sent. By comparison, there are an estimated 30 billion messages exchanged every month in Europe. Carriers wouldn't confirm these estimates.

Hogan believes text messaging will become more popular in the United States, especially with new phones and wireless devices hitting the market that have add-ons like keyboards to make it easier to type in text on a phone.

He also expects more messages to cross telephone lines now that most carriers are letting customers send text messages to cell phones supported by rival companies.

"A year ago the devices just weren't there," he said. "The timing is right now."

Cingular's messaging service is similar to one that Voicestream Wireless unveiled in November. The VoiceStream Wireless "iStream" service is available to anyone. Cingular Wireless plans to sell its service only to businesses, at $10 per employee per month.

AT&T Wireless' offerings also are focused on messaging. The company last week introduced two new phones and pared down some services to lure more customers onto its new, expensive network.

Verizon launched its new phone network in 20 percent of the country already, focusing on business customers at first. Sprint plans to launch its next-generation phone network in the coming weeks.