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In Pursuit of a Data Windfall

A new service targeting mobile phone use by small business and consumers hopes to emulate the enterprise-oriented Research in Motion's BlackBerry mobile e-mail.

Berggi, led by the founder of Turkey's largest Internet service, has its eye on the untapped U.S. mobile messaging sector. The company hopes to repeat RIM's success in the consumer market, Berggi CEO Babur Ozden told internetnews.com.

Berggi lets owners of inexpensive mobile phones exchange e-mail and instant messages using free messaging services from Google , Yahoo , Microsoft and AOL.

The service, which has been available in test markets this year, opens its $9.99 per month e-mail and instant messaging service to the general public on Thanksgiving.

However, the new mobile messaging service stiff-arms the usual carrier relationships, preferring to deal directly with customers.

Because the Berggi service is billed to a customer's mobile phone account, the inexpensive messaging option won't work with Verizon or Sprint Nextel because of billing conflicts, according to Ozden.

Customers download a Java applet, which Berggi described as "dead simple, but elegant" to provide consumers with the mobile messaging experience companies have only been able to deliver for large enterprises, according to a statement.

Due to its reliance on Java (a Symbian version is in the works), Berggi is incompatible with the Pocket PC. Berggi won't work with the BlackBerry nor Palm's Treo.

Ozden said Berggi is not meant to be a cheap alternative to the BlackBerry service.

While corporate mobile phone users need increased security and an ability to handle attachments, this new mobile messaging service wants to attract small business users and the average consumer. Subscribers can cancel the service and delete the messaging client from their phones without a penalty, according to the company.

The service works without the need for a data plan from a carrier, according to Ozden. Instead, Berggi uses the phone's data port. "You don't need a data plan. Establish your habit then decide whether you want a plan," he said.

Ozden said Berggi will offer its service to a variety of companies to include in a bundle with their own products. Possibilities could include Internet companies, banks or even coffeehouses.

During tests in 2006 with an Internet brand, Berggi attracted around 100,000 users and collected nearly $1 million in revenue-sharing, Ozden said.

Analysts, however, aren't convinced Berggi will be able to enter an already crowded market without teaming with some of the top-tier wireless carriers.

Along with RIM, Visto, Seven Networks and others are selling mobile messaging products aimed at low-cost phones, according to Gartner's Todd Kort.

Although one-third of consumers want e-mail service on their mobile phones, Berggi has some drawbacks. Chief among them is a lack of carriers for distribution and no large brand name for an ally, warned Charles Golvin of Forrester Research.

While analyst Kitty Weldon of Current Analysis believes there is a market for such a service among young mobile phone users, without a distribution agreement with a major carrier, Berggi will be left only with regional carriers.