AOL unveils new wireless services

America Online Inc. (AOL) plans to announce Monday a series of mobile services aimed at increasing the AOL functionality and content users can access from their mobile devices.

The services are being made available to carriers, which will in turn decide which services they offer, how they package them and how they price them, AOL is expected to announce at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association Wireless 2005 show in New Orleans.

Already, AOL has struck deals with some major carriers that have concrete plans to offer their subscribers some of the services. These include Cingular Wireless LLC/AT&T Wireless, Verizon Communications Inc. and Nextel, which is in the process of merging with Sprint Corp. The services are also being offered to T-Mobile USA Inc. and other smaller carriers. For now, the services are being offered to U.S. carriers only.

Extending AOL mobile services and content to members of its proprietary service and to non-members as well is fundamental, considering that mobile devices have become so ubiquitous and are increasingly able to support advanced Internet functionality, said Himesh Bhise, vice president and general manager of AOL Mobile.

"People have their (mobile) phones on for 15 or 16 hours a day. They spend far more time with their (mobile) phones than in front of their desktop PCs. So it's important for us that they take the AOL experience with them on the go," Bhise said.

The services include:

-- An extension of the Instant Pictures feature for AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), so that users can send pictures from the AIM interface on their PCs to mobile AIM users and to mobile users who don't use AIM as well. This functionality is enabled by AOL's Multimedia Messaging System server. Previously, AIM users could only transmit pictures among PCs.

-- Two new MapQuest features. One is called Find Me and uses GPS (Global Positioning System) technology to let users determine their location, get maps, obtain driving directions and find nearby sites, such as restaurants. The other one is called Traffic, which lets users obtain real-time traffic information for 90 metropolitan areas in the U.S.

-- A redesigned mobile portal with a new interface that simplifies access to AOL Mail and other AOL services.

-- New premium services, including mobile access for the You've Got Pictures service to let AOL members tap into their digital photo albums, and share, download and print pictures; a mobile version of Radio@AOL for tuning in to the service's radio stations; a mobile version of AOL CityGuide, which provides entertainment information for 317 geographical areas; and a new mobile version of Moviefone, to search for movie show times and purchase tickets from the mobile devices.

The services have been designed to be easy to access and to use, Bhise said. "I think too many mobile apps are cumbersome to use and many people don't use them. We're building apps we think people will want to use on their phones," he said.

Regarding commitments from carriers, Nextel plans to announce that it will begin offering on Monday the Mapquest Find Me service, while Verizon is picking up Mapquest Traffic, an AOL spokeswoman said. Meanwhile, Cingular is signing up for Instant Pictures, You've Got Pictures and the redesigned mobile portal, the spokeswoman said.

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