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AOL wireless: No stabilisers?

At the CTIA Wireless IT show: AOL's wireless strategy is much like its popular desktop service, emphasising simplicity and consumer satisfaction
Written by Richard Shim, Contributor

Dennis Patrick, president of AOL Wireless, was asked at the CTIA Wireless IT show Monday if the online giant was aiming to roll out a "wireless Web on training wheels" -- a swipe at AOL's Internet-for-newbies reputation.

But after Patrick then threatened -- jokingly -- to leave the stage before delivering his promised keynote, the former FCC chairman dove into his company's wireless strategy.

That strategy, while perhaps not as basic as the company's wildly successful desktop game plan, promises to be simple nonetheless.

The repositioning of AOL will centre on "the enablement of consumers" anywhere, said Patrick, allowing them to get at AOL services -- such as instant messaging and email -- wherever they are.

The ISP giant will do that by using its expertise in the interface, making the experience for the user easy and convenient, he said.

That mentality, said Patrick, was what made the desktop version of AOL services so successful, and he predicted it will be the success behind the wireless version, as well.

That mentality extends beyond just the company itself but also to the companies that AOL will partner with.

The ISP giant, whose service has not been as well-received in Japan as it has been domestically, recently announced an agreement with Japan's wireless carrier NTT DoCo that could give AOL a mighty boost.

NTT DoCoMo's iMode wireless phones have been wildly popular in Japan, with more than seven million sold in less than a year. Many industry insiders and carriers, in fact, view iMode's success as the realisation of the potential of the wireless Web.

Under the agreement, the two companies cross-promote each other in Japan. NTT DoCoMo also took a 42.3 percent equity stake -- worth nearly $100m -- in AOL Japan.

"DoCoMo's success has been driven by asking the same question over and over: how do you make this easy for the consumer to understand?," said Patrick. "This is very similar to what we did in the desktop marketplace [in the US]."

AOL Wireless' strategy, according to Patrick, differs from its competitors by focusing on just what the consumers want, within the restraints of the wireless world, such as form factor, bandwidth, and screen size.

"Competitors are throwing everything into the wireless space, we think it through and prefilter what consumers are really going to want and to create an optimal environment so it's as useful and easy as the desktop version," said Patrick.

He went onto say that the company understands there are differences between the wireless medium and the desktop, and AOL Wireless will go beyond just IM and email to take advantage of the wireless medium's capabilities.

It will also turn its attention to location and contextual sensitive capabilities when carriers' networks offer the technology.

When asked about AOL Wireless' agreements with AT&T and Sprint, and how they may affect the relationship with DoCoMo, Patrick said the wireless space is not a zero-sum game in which one player wins and all others lose. "We don't need, nor do we want to do, it all. Everyone should be looking for different partnerships that play off one another's strengths and grow the pie," said Patrick.

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