ICQ joins webmail battles with new service

The increasingly competitive webmail market has a new player: Instant messaging provider ICQ now offers a fee-based service that includes 2G bytes of storage, a calendar feature, task manager, notepad, wireless access and support for both POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) and IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol).

ICQ, owned by America Online Inc., on Monday will announce the service, which costs US$19.99 per year, said Ronen Arad, ICQ director of product management.

The service also includes spam filtering and blocking, protection against viruses and a 20M-byte ceiling on files sent or received. The service offers a feature that translates messages into seven languages, the ability to compress large attachments and WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) support for access from a mobile device. The features in this webmail service make it a real competitor to services from other providers, such as Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc., whose Gmail webmail is still in beta test.

The ICQ webmail service also has features available for additional fees. One such extra-cost feature lets users send e-mail messages to wireless devices that support SMS (Short Message Service). Another one is a video e-mail service that can be used by subscribers who have a webcam attached to their PCs; the webmail interface has VCR-like controls to record the message, which recipients in turn can play back without additional software on Windows-based PCs.

Meanwhile, ICQ will also announce Monday that its existing free webmail service, which used to be a generic and bare-bones offering, has undergone a significant revamping, Arad said. It now features enhanced message search functionality, virus and spam protection, more ways to manage inbox messages, such as a new folder for drafts and a sent-mail confirmation feature. However, inbox storage for the free service, at only 6M bytes, is low compared with other providers.

ICQ, based in Tel Aviv, is partnering with Mail2World Inc., based in Los Angeles, to provide these webmail services. ICQ signed up Mail2World several months ago, Ronen said. ICQ's former webmail partner was San Francisco-based Critical Path Inc.

More details about ICQ's webmail services are available at http://www.icq.com.

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