‘Good’ Move by Cingular Seen Pressing Research In Motion

Cingular Wireless has launched a business-focused always-on e-mail service that will compete alongside the popular BlackBerry standard from Research In Motion and could portend additional offerings from carriers eager to lock in corporate users.

Cingular, the largest mobile carrier in the U.S., said it would link with Good Technology to provide e-mail and other services that could be accessed over its mobile network with smartphones and other hand-held devices that operate on the Palm and Windows Mobile operating systems.

The service, known as GoodLink, is a continuous, or always-on, offering that constantly synchronizes e-mail, calendars and contact lists in the Microsoft Outlook family of products for users whether they are on mobile devices or working directly on a network.

Direct Purchase

While Cingular supported GoodLink in the past, the service was sold separately. Under the new agreement — financial details were not disclosed — customers can buy GoodLink directly from Cingular, as they now can purchase the BlackBerry service.

Cingular is touting the convenience angle of the service, which enables companies to merge their mobile e-mail service with the voice calling plan into a single billing and support system. It also said the service could be integrated with virtually no investment in information technology infrastructure.

Cingular said it will charge US$44.99 per month for unlimited data transfer service through GoodLink, with $1,599 in startup costs.

Analysts said the move could alter the competitive landscape for mobile e-mail, where Research In Motion’s BlackBerry is a much-favored device for mobile messaging. However, most don’t see GoodLink as an immediate threat to the RIM juggernaut, even with a powerful partner like Cingular.

In a research note, Standard & Poor’s said that while GoodLink gets a boost and possible exposure to many of Cingular’s 50 million subscribers, RIM still has the strong upper hand, with 42,000 corporate clients to fewer than 6,000 for GoodLink. RIM has about 3 million individual users, while Good Technology has not disclosed the size of its subscriber base.

Sea Change Coming

S&P said RIM still has the “largest partner list among global wireless carriers” and has more room to grow, since e-mail-ready devices are far less common than traditional cellular phones.

That will change over time as more smartphone-style devices work their way into users’ hands, particularly among business users. Gartner has predicted that by 2008, virtually all phones being sold for mobile use will feature e-mail capabilities.

Mobile operators are somewhat late to the wireless e-mail party, Gartner Vice President Ken Dulaney told the E-Commerce Times, but are now moving quickly to be major players, rather than simply operating in the background as the backbone over which such messages move.

“Network operators have been somewhat reluctant to permit widespread messaging access to their networks without collecting fees from those who send such messages,” Dulaney said.

Some analysts say mobile carriers tried to resist the growth of mobile messaging because it represented a potential threat to the core talk-minutes business — with increased efficiency of e-mail and messaging shown to reduce total spend on wireless. For instance, a user can compose an e-mail message off-line and connect only to send it, using just seconds of airtime in doing so.

Even when e-mail phones are ubiquitous, additional work will remain on the enterprise side, he added, as businesses look to blend e-mail servers with the least expense but the highest levels of security and interoperability possible.

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