Microsoft and Vodafone join forces to take on Blackberry

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The Independent Online

Blackberry's virtual monopoly on the e-mail-on-the-move market is under threat from a portable e-mail service in the pipeline from Microsoft and Vodafone. Windows Mobile E-mail will be launched in the UK, France and Germany next month, the two groups said yesterday at the start of the mobile phone industry's annual conference.

The device, which will attempt to break Blackberry's stranglehold on the portable e-mail market, will let users edit Microsoft Word and Excel documents, as well as send and receive e-mails. It piles the misery on Research in Motion, the Canadian company behind Blackberry, which is fighting a legal battle in the US over claims it has breached patents.

Elsewhere, the opening day of the conference heralded a new personal instant-messaging (IM) service that will seek to shake up the simple world of "fire and forget" text messaging. Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile are among 15 mobile operators who have joined forces to offer the service, which will go head-to-head with existing IM services offered by the likes of Yahoo!, MSN and Skype.

The cost of the service is being kept under wraps while more partners are signed up, but the operators see it as a potentially huge boost to their revenue lines. IM will be launched in the UK in the next few months but will require most users to splash out on new, IM-compatible, handsets.

The 15 operators, who include China Mobile and Spain's Telefonica, which owns O2, have 700 million customers - more than twice the number of the existing IM community signed up to portals such as MSN.

Industry experts were sceptical that IM would simply cannibalise operators' revenues from existing text-messaging services.

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