RealTime IT News

EarthLink Tests Wireless E-mail Application

EarthLink Network Inc. Wednesday began test marketing its new wireless e-mail service dubbed EarthLink Airmanager.

The wireless e-mail application is powered by Canada's Research In Motion Ltd. award-winning BlackBerry software.

EarthLink Airmanager allows members to send and receive e-mail messages using the BlackBerry wireless e-mail solution. Airmanager is the first product to be offered by the company's newly launched product group, EarthLink Everywhere, an initiative to develop and introduce wireless Internet services to EarthLink's existing member base.

Tom Andrus, EarthLink vice president of product management, said the wireless test program is the key to its Internet access from anywhere initiative.

"Our members check their e-mail an average of five times a day," Andrus said. "EarthLink Airmanager represents a significant innovation for EarthLink members who are increasingly dependent on e-mail."

"Whether it's access to check e-mail via their computer, wireless handheld, wireless phones, or any portable handheld device, we're giving our members yet another way to access their EarthLink e-mail account everywhere they go," he added.

The EarthLink wireless service allows members to read, forward, reply to and compose e-mail messages over wire-free devices using their existing EarthLink e-mail address. BlackBerry uses a "push" method to deliver e-mail messages, so e-mail is automatically routed to a wireless handheld device without much effort on the part of the user.

EarthLink's pilot program is open to existing subscribers, but is limited to the first 500 test members. The service costs $35 a month for unlimited e-mail messaging and includes a lease of the BlackBerry wireless handheld device.

The BlackBerry Wireless Handheld program features an optimized display, fully functioning keyboard, thumb-operated trackwheel and an intuitive interface. An integrated suite of applications also provides a personal organizer with PC synchronization software, message filtering capabilities, and back-up utilities.

Andrus said e-mail has become an extremely important method of communication in people's lives.

"Today, people are tied to their laptops, or even their desktop PCs to check their e-mail, but not for long," Andrus said. "In fact, if a business traveler carries a laptop only to check e-mail, this five-ounce device will be a marvel."

Cahner's In-Stat Group reports that over the past 15 years, the number of U.S. wireless subscribers has grown from less than 100,000 people to more than 90 million. The high-tech market research firm predicts that wireless penetration will more than double over the next 5 years due to the demand from e-mail users.

However, In-Start further reports than annual wireless churn rates have increased 4 percent in the last year and will continue to rise if wireless providers do not focus on customer retention issues.

Ken Hyers, In-Stat's industry analyst for wireless strategies services, said it is debatable whether carriers are sufficiently aware of the problem that churn presents.

"For most wireless service providers, the priority is to maintain high customer acquisition rates, often at the expense of customer retention, even when the cost to keep a current customer is a fraction of that to acquire a new one," Hyers said.

"Those who are aware of churn and are willing to combat its effects have several choices," Hyers continued. "There are a myriad of companies that offer customer retention solutions, however, carriers must ensure that they select the right solution for their specific needs."

By limiting it's test market of wireless e-mail services, EarthLink intends to minim