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Hotmail prepares to go mobile in Asia

Microsoft plans to launch a service in Asia next month that allows people to access their Web-based e-mail accounts over their cell phones.

People in Asia will soon be able to access MSN Hotmail and Messenger services via mobile phones and personal digital assistants, Microsoft said Monday.

With the debut expected later this year, Hotmail and Messenger users in Asia will have an alternative to the PC for sending and receiving messages. The new option will use SMS (Short Messaging Service) technology to send text messages to phone users.

Both services will initially launch in three Asian markets, thanks to Microsoft's partnerships with Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel), CSL in Hong Kong and ChungHwa Telecom in Taiwan.

Hotmail services will begin next month, while the instant messaging offering will start in October, said Raj Sambwani, MSN Asia's business development director.

There is no monthly subscription fee, but people will be charged by their cellular operators for each incoming and outgoing message, Sambwani told reporters Monday. Exact pricing has yet to be determined, he added.

A separate alliance between MSN and SMS aggregator Mobileway also allows messages to be exchanged among different mobile operators, including SingTel, CSL and ChungHwa.

In Asia, MSN has 15 million Hotmail subscribers and 7 million Messenger users.

MSN's initiative is not the first of its kind in Asia. As the result of a service introduced last August in Singapore, Yahoo Messenger users can already chat via SMS.

CNETAsia's Irene Tham reported from Singapore.