BEDMINSTER, N.J. -- Verizon Wireless Inc. and Cingular Wireless, the two largest U.S. mobile-phone companies, plan new fast Internet and phone-personalization services, aimed at attracting more customers and boosting sales to current subscribers.
Verizon, starting today in San Diego, will begin letting customers install games, ring tones and other programs using software from Qualcomm Inc. The service will be offered nationwide starting in May. Customers will pay for programs they download on a per-use or per-month basis.
By the end of June, Cingular will expand fast Web access, known as general packet radio service, to California and New York. The service is now offered in Seattle, Las Vegas and areas of Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas. By year-end, it will be available in seven more cities, as well as in Connecticut, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Verizon Wireless now offers fast Internet service on the East and West coasts. The company and its rivals Sprint PCS Group and AT&T Wireless Services Inc. expect that as Web access speeds improve, customers will use their mobile phones more often for e-mail, entertainment and tapping into corporate databases. As users spend more time online, transmitting information, listening to music and exchanging messages, monthly bills will rise.
Persuading users who normally browse the Web on large, color computer monitors to do the same on small, black-and-white telephone screens will be a challenge for carriers, said Ken Hyers, a senior analyst at In-Stat/MDR.
"In the U.S., a wireless phone is something that you use to call somebody, nothing more," he said.
Phones with color screens and the ability to receive graphics, custom screen savers and ring tones will be critical to adoption of the new messaging and Internet-based services Verizon Wireless and Cingular are introducing, said Dylan Brooks, senior analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix.
Customers who want to use the Verizon service will need a new phone from Kyocera Corp. or Sharp Corp. The Sharp phone has a color display.
The Qualcomm software enables Verizon Wireless customers to browse an online mall, buying entertainment services, games and other content by pressing keys on their phones. Programs are transmitted and installed on users' phones over the air, and minutes spent retrieving programs are deducted from subscribers' monthly buckets.
Qualcomm's technology also makes software programs compatible with multiple phones and operating systems, eliminating the need for developers to write more than one version of a game or application.
Cingular will continue upgrading its network after the transition to general packet radio service is complete, with work beginning in the fourth quarter.
Verizon Wireless is a venture of Verizon Communications Inc., based in New York, and Britain's Vodafone Group. Cingular, based in Atlanta, is a venture of BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications Inc.