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Carriers Push For Two-Way Messaging

Major messaging carriers and Motorola plan to drive two-way wireless messaging into the mainstream this year with an aggressive retail rollout of a low-price keyboard-equipped two-way device.

Under $200, Motorola’s Talkabout T900 Personal Interactive Communicator will be almost half the price of existing keyboard-equipped models, whose distribution has been limited by most carriers to internal direct-sales forces that call on businesses. The carriers have limited distribution because of the $369-$395 price points of the other keyboard-equipped models and because of limited supplies.

The new price point, the carriers’ distribution plans, ample supplies, and a national ad campaign targeted to begin in August creates an “opportunity to relaunch the messaging business” at retail and “attract new people to the messaging category,” said Miguel Pellon, Motorola’s VP/general manager of wireless messaging. Those consumers are people, largely in the 18- to 24-year-old age group, whose “reference point is the Web and e-mail,” he said.

The device, available in four colors, is capable of pulling data on demand from the Web, receiving pushed customizable data, and sending word messages composed from a built-in QWERTY keyboard to any e-mail address and directly to other one- and two-way messaging devices.

Motorola’s planned advertising campaign, still under development, will focus on the T900 but will also “get people thinking in terms of the way they can bring [Internet and Internet-like messaging] to a mobile environment,” Pellon said.

The industry “has not seen a strong adoption by consumers [of one-way word paging] for personal use,” he noted, possibly because one-way devices’ Internet e-mail capabilities were not “communicated properly” to consumers.

Carriers Arch, WebLink Wireless and Metrocall told TWICE that they plan aggressive retail rollouts of the T900 in the coming weeks and months. WebLink plans late-June availability through Best Buy and The Good Guys, followed by July availability through The Wiz, OfficeMax and RadioShack, said WebLink president N. Ross Buckenham. “This is the first two-way product that works at retail,” he said. “This is a breakthrough product.”

WebLink began to target retail aggressively with two-way devices earlier this year with a keyboard- and PDA-equipped Motorola PageWriter at $365 and a $199 Glenayre AccessLink II, which features a virtual onscreen non-QWERTY keyboard. To introduce the T900, WebLink will price it at $99 after an $80 rebate with the purchase of a one-year service contract. Airtime prices will now start at $14.95/month for nationwide service that includes 250 messages and information requests. Previously, WebLink started two-way pricing at $9.95/month for a local-service option, which has been eliminated to simplify pricing plans for consumers, Buckenham said.

For its part, Metrocall will launch its retail rollout in late June in the carrier’s 127 owned-and-operated stores, in AT&T Wireless stores, and Ritz Camera, Metrocall president William Collins said. Collins said he also sees potential for the Walgreens drug chain. Metrocall is targeting a $179 price point at the outset, but Collins said he hopes the price will soon hit $149 because “our research shows a dramatic expansion of the market at that price.”

Carrier Arch Communications said department store chain Boscov’s will be among its first accounts to market the T900 by midyear, but details of the launch won’t be revealed until mid- to late June.

Motorola expects other carriers to pick up the device, including PageNet, SkyTel, TSR Wireless and Verizon Wireless Messaging Services.

“Production will ramp up in the next 30 days to some channels, and full production will begin in the next couple months,” Motorola’s Pellon said.