VoiceStream Wireless's 2.6 million subscribers are getting the America Online touch.
The wireless carrier announced Thursday that it has partnered with RealNames, an Internet technology company, to offer keyword searching over wireless devices--the same type of Web navigation America Online offers its customers.
Keyword searching allows people to type in a word--or in some cases only a letter--instead of the typical Web address. Both VoiceStream and RealNames say the keyword search may help dull the pain of having to type in a lengthy URL, which is one of the many drawbacks that has kept wireless from fulfilling its hype.
Riddhi Patel, an analyst with the Aberdeen Group, a market research firm, said there are still just a limited number of wireless Web sites that can be accessed using the keywords. But the ease of just having to enter a few letters to surf the wireless Web outweighs the limited offerings.
"For smart phones, keying in information is a task," she said. "This thing will be useful. It should be reliable."
Sometime before the end of 2001, VoiceStream's subscribers will simply type a company or brand name into their mobile phones, and the RealNames software will find the appropriate Web site, the companies said.
In some instances, wireless Web wanderers won't have to type in a full name. The RealNames technology has an "auto-complete" feature that lets customers enter just a single letter such as "Z" and up pops a list of Web sites that begin with that letter, such as restaurant guide Zagat.
RealNames said VoiceStream is the first wireless carrier to use the technology it's developed to battle America Online for keyword searching supremacy.
A representative for America Online was not immediately available for comment.
RealNames also has a partnership with Phone.com, now known as Openwave Systems, which offers the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) platform to wireless carriers. The deal inserts the RealNames keyword search into the Openwave WAP-based Web browser.
RealNames is a privately held company with investors including Microsoft, which owns a 20 percent stake. It also has received funding from investment banking firms Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, among others.
The company reduced its staff by 60 percent last year.