Freeserve and BT strike deal to offer online mobile services

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The Independent Online
FREESERVE, the Internet service provider (ISP), and British Telecom agreed yesterday to develop mobile online services over BT Cellnet, Britain's second-biggest mobile network.

With Genie - BT Cellnet's ISP - Freeserve will supply Web-based services to mobile phones, including short text messages, share prices, sports results and news. Freeserve will provide much of the content, while BT Cellnet will provide the technology and network to reach mobile users.

John Pluthero, Freeserve's chief executive, said the partnership would allow his company to access the mobile market ahead of its competitors. "Our view is that as an access provider, unless you can offer customers your service - whether on a personal computer, laptop or mobile phone - you are in a weak position."

Shares in BT and Freeserve, already strong in recent days, advanced to new all-time highs yesterday. BT added 5 per cent to 1,392p, while Freeserve soared 28 per cent to 370.75p, taking the shares to more than double their July flotation price.

One of the first services will be an e-mail notification service for mobile phones for existing Freeserve customers from late January. Freeserve customers will also be able to type a short message on their PCs and send it to any mobile phone user.

Mobile phone use, with over 20 million subscribers in the UK, is growing more rapidly than the PC market. Although more than 20 million households have a PC, only 10 million are thought to have Internet access.

Online services will be enhanced with the roll-out of BT Cellnet's enhanced Internet access service for mobile phones in the middle of next year. "There is a huge benefit to both organisations in harnessing one another's strengths to take the lead in mobile Internet," said Peter Erskine, BT Cellnet's managing director.