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BREW to pipe Hotmail into cell phones

Microsoft is set to deliver Hotmail e-mail and MSN Messenger to handsets and other wireless devices that use Qualcomm's BREW download software.

Microsoft is tapping Qualcomm's BREW download software to deliver its MSN Internet applications to the cell phone masses.

On Tuesday, the companies announced an agreement to enable handsets that use Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless, or BREW, to support services such as Hotmail e-mail and MSN Messenger instant messaging. The move broadens Microsoft's reach from high-end combination smart phones to consumer-level handsets.

"Hotmail has over 170 million active users, and MSN messenger has about 120 million users," said Brooke Richardson, product manager for MSN. "We want to enable those users to be able to access MSN services from anywhere. Many of these customers aren't using devices with hugely robust operating systems, so the BREW technology allows us to address this market."

Qualcomm's software, which is used by 24 cell phone manufacturers on more than 120 devices, is typically used to funnel downloadable ring tones, games and video mail programs to consumers. Carriers such as Verizon Wireless, Alltel and Cellular One already offer such wireless data services for BREW-enabled devices.

MSN has developed a downloadable application that will use the BREW technology so that Hotmail and MSN Messenger can be used on a wider array of devices.

Microsoft has been developing software for mobile devices for the last few years. It has been gaining momentum in the high-end market with its Windows Mobile Smartphone technology, competing with other operating system providers, like Symbian--owned by cell phone giants Nokia, Siemens, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony Ericsson, among others--and PalmSource.

The company has also supported standards such as Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) that allows for basic support of services such as text messaging. By adding BREW support, the company can now offer the low-end consumer market more robust data services.

"Microsoft has been promoting its advantages to the corporate market for years," said Alan Reiter, the president of Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing, a consulting firm that specializes in wireless data. "But adding Hotmail and the Messenger service shows that they are clearly trying to tap into the general consumer market."

Internet service providers other than MSN are also tapping this market. Yahoo and America Online have been trying to win deals with carriers and cell phone makers to get their software loaded on popular cell phones. Specifically, they have pushed services like two-way paging, e-mail and instant messaging. AOL announced in December that it would .

In addition, EarthLink on Monday announced that it plans to sell wireless devices to consumer and small-business customers.

So far, demand for data services in the consumer mobile market has been relatively low, especially in the United States. But Reiter said the tide could be turning for mobile data services.

He predicted that as handset manufacturers introduce new products with more multimedia functionality, consumers will upgrade to higher-end devices that can support more functionality, such as mobile data services.

"Even though everyone has been going after this market for years, we've only recently started to see devices that are truly exciting--ones with color screens and good audio," he said. "These new devices are attracting much more of the consumer market that is looking to trade up to devices that can do things like instant messaging and e-mail."

Microsoft expects carriers to begin rolling out the MSN applications within the first half of this year. Pricing is not currently available and will vary by carrier.