Microsoft Corp. will give its 20 million email users in Europe access to messages via their mobile phones, the company said on Thursday in unveiling a new alliance with European mobile operators.
The initiative involving a joint venture between Danish mobile operator TDC Mobile International, and Anglo-Dutch CMG Wireless Data Solutions, is the latest step in Microsoft’s strategy to bring its software products and Web offerings to mobile devices, including phones, pagers and handheld devices.
This is the first time Microsoft has made Hotmail accessible via mobile phones, the company said.
Hotmail is one of the most commonly accessed features on MSN, Europe’s leading Web portal. In the future, Microsoft intends to give mobile users greater access to the MSN portal whether it be to read news headlines or scan parts of the Web, the company said.
Users will be able to access their Hotmail account and send email messages via short messaging service, commonly known as SMS, Microsoft said.
Mobile computing — particularly the ability to access email via users’ mobile phones — is nothing new. Internet-ready phones, introduced by the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and the faster Gereral Packet Radio Service (GPRS) technologies, can perform this function. But takeup by consumers has been gradual.
On the other hand, SMS usage has exploded in Europe with millions and millions of users regularly tapping messages from their phone pad, at an average cost of 10 to 20 pence per message.
The companies are hoping that by basing the initiative on the already familiar SMS platform, and making it available to millions of Hotmail users, it will bring a long-sought kickstart to the mobile computing industry.
Declan Lonergan, director of the European wireless/mobile group at The Yankee Group in London, said the Microsoft announcement is a good, if short-term, step toward introducing mobile computing to the masses.
“Maybe, with Microsoft coming to the table, it will make more user friendly,” Lonergan said. “I think delivering e-mail via the SMS channel is a clever way forward, but I think GPRS will take most of the traffic in the future.”
In the short term it could be a very important chunk of business for mobile operators looking to cash in on users dialing in to check e-mail.
“…With this alliance we are extending our capability to offer mobile carriers an immediate opportunity to generate revenue based on two-way SMS by providing their consumers with access to MSN Hotmail,” Judy Gibbons, vice president of MSN Europe, Middle East and Africa, said in a statement.
The U.S. software giant said on Thursday that as part of the initiative more than 40 mobile operators across Europe will have access to the Web-based Hotmail service.
The first trials will be with Sunrise, a Swiss mobile service owned by TDC, and TDC Mobile in Denmark, Microsoft said. Microsoft could not immediately say when the start date for the trials would be.