Cingular sends Yahoo a message

By Jim Hu and Ben Charny
Staff Writer, CNET
May 29, 2003, 10:12 AM PT

Cingular Wireless is allowing its cell phone subscribers to exchange text messages with Yahoo instant messaging buddies, helping the Web giant extend its reach beyond the PC.

The feature does not cost extra for Cingular subscribers, and it is free to Yahoo Messenger users, the company said Thursday. The No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier charges 10 cents a message, or $2.99 and $9.99 for 100 and 500 messages, respectively.

For Yahoo, Cingular becomes the latest cell phone company to connect with its instant messaging service. Last November, for example, Yahoo introduced a "Mobile" button on its instant messaging client that allowed people to send messages to buddies using AT&T Wireless cell phones. The button was added at the expense of a "PC phone calling" button, a feature that's still available but less prominently promoted.

Other Internet giants, namely America Online and Microsoft's MSN, have struck agreements with wireless carriers to allow PC-to-phone messaging. Deals with wireless carriers are important for Internet companies looking to broaden their reach beyond the PC desktop.

All these companies are banking on wireless messaging, which has yet to take off in the United States. It takes major marketing efforts, such as the use of text message voting on the TV show "American Idol," to generate significant traffic. But billions of short text messages are sent daily in Europe and Asia, where cell phones outnumber personal computers by a 5-1 ratio.

The Cingular service adds PCs into the messaging mix without requiring people to download a new Yahoo Messenger client or to install extra software for the cell phone or the computer. It differs only slightly from usual instant messaging in that conversations that originate from PCs must be addressed to a Cingular subscriber's 10-digit phone number and not to his or her Yahoo screen name.

Instant messaging's enormous popularity in the United States might rub off on cell phone users eventually, but it could come at a cost. Some U.S. carriers charge people every time they use their cell phone to send and receive a text message. Messages sent from PCs to cell phones are free, according to terms of the Cingular-Yahoo service and others like it.