RealTime IT News

AOL Enhances Wireless Portal

AOL Time Warner's America Online Inc. Monday launched an enhanced version of its wireless portal in an attempt to woo the more than 109 million wireless phone users in the U.S.

Internet-ready Web phones, popular in Japan and Europe, have been slow to take off in the States, with only about 600,000 consumer users, according to a recent report by Cahner's In-stat, an online research firm.

Becky Diercks, Cahner's director of wireless services, said the transition from business to consumer markets has been relatively slow, making it more challenging to capture consumer interest.

"Business users have been first to adopt wireless data and Internet services," Diercks said. "With a population of more than 250 million in the U.S. today, however, the consumer market has barely been penetrated."

Her report finds that while instant messaging and information services will be the initial draw, consumers aren't going to come in droves until providers offer content to make the service worthwhile.

AOL, the largest Internet service provider in the world with 29 million subscribers, believes it has begun to address that need with agreements announced Monday with eBay, Travelocity, Qsent and NGame.

The agreements beef up the content on the ISP's fledgling AOL Mobile service, launched in June, 2000. Officials have already incorporated the new companies into its AOL Mobile channel lineup.

eBay is the first company in AOL Mobile's new shopping channel, and, with the addition of Travelocity's service, people can book airline, car and hotel reservations. Got a couple minutes to spare? Users can log onto NGame's Web site and choose from arcade-style and casino-type games.

Lisa Hook, AOL Mobile president, said the announcements give users what they want: more content.

"Through new and existing partnerships for the AOL Mobile service, we're able to provide the functionality and content people want most whenever and wherever they need it -- from getting a taxi and then checking the status of a flight while headed to the airport, to placing an online bid or playing an online game before arriving at the terminal," Hook said.

The only trick is bringing the consumers in to visit.

Although any Internet-enabled device is able to visit, Sprint Corp. and AT&T Wireless are the only two wireless providers to formally broker partnership deals with AOL Mobile. Sprint is the only wireless offering that lets AOL users use the popular AOL Instant Messaging service.

AOL officials were unable to say how many people use the portal every month, but expect the numbers to increase as more applications come online. Tracking software is currently being developed to get numbers on monthly page view traffic, an AOL Mobile official said.

Anne Bentley, AOL Mobile spokesperson, said its own large member base is an obvious fit for the program.

"Obviously we've been partnering with folks like Sprint and AT&T and marketing to their members," Bentley said. "But we now have 29 million AOL users, so we think they are the real target audience. They're the ones who are going to want to get their mobile services, like e-mail, address book and instant messaging, when they're away from their home or business."

AOL Mobile is currently available in the U.S., Mexico, Germany and Hong Kong, and is a component of the Internet service provider's AOL Anywhere program.