The two-way paging system recently launched by SkyTel Corp. is reasonably priced and clearly takes the paging industry across the threshold into next-century applications, say wireless analysts.

“The market is going to be very competitive on price,” said Heidi Bomengen, associate director for the telecommunications practice of Arthur D. Little Inc. “The incremental cost to provide two-way isn’t significant, so the cost to provide shouldn’t drive cost up that much. If you can have two-way paging for a small incremental price over one-way, why not?” Bomengen asked.

SkyTel’s 2-Way network allows users to do two things that distinguish the service from one-way paging-users can respond to a page immediately with a canned, 15-character alphanumeric message, or can initiate a page by hooking the pager up to the SkyTel Palmtop Messenger personal computer from Hewlett-Packard Co., typing a message and sending.

Basic local service begins at $24.95 per month, and includes 100 messages up to 80 characters long. Messages can be sent and received nationwide when outside the local area for an additional 95 cents a message. Nationwide service is $74.95 per month and includes 200 messages of up to 80 characters.

SkyTel is a subsidiary of Mobile Telecommunication Technologies Corp. of Jackson, Miss. The two-way technology was developed by Mtel’s Destineer Corp. subsidiary. SkyTel is the name brand and operator of the system. SkyTel 2-Way service was rolled out last month in 1,300 cities covering the top 50 metropolitan statistical areas in the nation. SkyTel intends to expand the network, the nation’s first two-way paging system, by year’s end.

2-Way users can respond to a page several ways. For example, senders can include a multiple choice answer in the message. Recipients then can scroll, select a response and send it back. Or a 2-Way user can send a canned response from a list of 16 “predefined” responses. But canned messages, such as “I’ll be home around 7 p.m.” might be inflexible for today’s demanding users, said Michael Elling, telecom analyst with Prudential Securities.

2-Way users also have the option of composing and sending responses of up to 95 characters using the SkyTel Palmtop Messenger. The 11-ounce palmtop contains a small keyboard and is connected to the pager by a plug-in cable. “The integration of paging with portable computers is beginning,” said Roberta Wiggins, paging analyst with the Yankee Group.

SkyTel is using Motorola’s ReFLEX technology and Tango two-way pager. The flip-style pager sells for about $400, but can be leased for $15 a month. It weighs 5.5 ounces and contains a four-line, 20-character display window. The inside of the flip-top contains a menu screen for message selection. The Tango uses a AAA battery and holds 100 kilobytes of memory.

Elling said the Tango seems bulky and cumbersome. “It may take a year or two to prove out. If they sell 10,000 to 20,000 units in 1996 they’ll be lucky, considering the total (network) cost,” Elling said.

Motorola Inc. said giving the Tango two-way capability led to different shape and size configurations. Because of the flip, the Tango seems a little thicker. In terms of weight, it is just more than an ounce heavier than a one-way pager such as the 4.11-ounce Motorola Advisor.

SkyTel has traditionally gone after high-end users, such as international paging customers, but the price of 2-Way indicates the company now is targeting a broader market, Wiggins said.

“The prices they’ve developed aren’t a lot more than what they are asking now,” Wiggins said.

MCI Communications Corp. has signed up to resell SkyTel 2-Way. The two-way system also has captured the interest of New Jersey-based Sony Electronics Inc.

Sony Electronics created Sony Wireless Telecommunications Co. in January to design, manufacture and market cellular phones. San Diego-based Sony Wireless now offers an analog product, with plans to introduce phones based on Time Division Multiple Access and Code Division Multiple Access technologies.

Sony Wireless intends to distribute SkyTel 2-Way pagers and service through its retail consumer electronics sales channels. Sony said this is the first time it has distributed the product of another manufacturer.

The deal will slip SkyTel 2-Way into the cog of Sony’s powerful consumer sales system, emphasizing SkyTel’s desire to push paging well beyond the business user.

SkyTel also has an agreement with Microsoft Corp., the software manufacturer holding an interest in Mtel. Through product and marketing initiatives, users of Microsoft’s Windows ’95 and The Microsoft Network will be able to send and receive messages through the SkyTel 2-Way network. Messaging software and sign-up information for SkyTel 2-Way will be on The Microsoft Network and Microsoft’s World Wide Web.

“This new type of connectivity between MSN and the SkyTel 2-Way paging network significantly extends the communications capabilities of both services,” said Russell Siegelman, general manager for The Microsoft Network.

The goal is to bring two-way paging to personal computer and on-line users, the companies said.


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