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RAM MOBILE DATA PREPARES FOR NATIONWIDE ROLLOUT

NEW YORK-RAM Mobile Data USA L.P. is gearing up for a national rollout, starting in the New York City metropolitan area, of an interactive, two-way messaging service designed to compete head-on with SkyTel Corp.-brand paging.

At a news conference March 11, RAM Mobile Data officials said the new RAMfirst interactive paging initiative will provide additional capabilities over the SkyTel two-way paging services of Mobile Telecommunication Technologies Corp. These include: access software permitting dispatched messages to pagers; real-time confirmation of messages sent; the ability to initiate messages from a pager to a telephone or a fax, as well as for World Wide Web inquiries and delivery confirmations.

RAM officials also said their service will provide users with a gateway to local area networks for data storage and retrieval via the same user interfaces deployed in stationary computer systems. Another important piece of the puzzle is fast access, within seconds, not minutes, RAM executives said.

“Two years ago, wireless e-mail was going to be a killer [application]. What happened to it?” said Janet L. Boudris, senior vice president of strategic marketing for RAM, headquartered in Woodbridge, N.J. “The modems were all the wrong form factor for the mobile user, all the software was session oriented, so the advantages of packet data went right out the window.”

Besides the paging services offered immediately, William Lenahan, company president, did not rule out expansion into linkages with wireless voice communications in the future.

“If a customer wants PCS (personal communications services) or GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) down the road, we’re willing to interconnect,” he said.

RAM Mobile Data plans to offer its interactive paging through resellers, affording them fast time to market with service offerings that compete with two-way paging without the need to deploy a new network, Boudris said.

“Our resellers will be primarily paging companies; we have talked to five of the top 10 paging companies,” Boudris said. “We are under nondisclosure agreements with companies that may resell our product.”

The suggested retail price for RAMfirst is a monthly charge of $29 for local air time, which would include 200 messages of up to 500 characters. SkyTel’s monthly air time charge is only $20, but it includes just 100 messages of up to 80 characters each, Boudris said. RAMfirst also has suggested a monthly nationwide paging air time rate of $33, which also includes 200 messages of up to 500 characters.

At an initial suggested retail price of $650, the Research in Motion [email protected] Pager to be used with RAMfirst costs too much right now to be sold outright to consumers, she said. Consequently, RAM’s suggested pricing plan calls for a monthly lease price of $14, a dollar less than the rental price charged by SkyTel. Research in Motion also is supplying an [email protected] pager to ConectUS Wireless Communications of Thousand Oakes, Calif. ConectUS is offering messaging service via the Ardis two-way data network.

Because of a battery saving protocol in the pager, it offers two weeks of “always on” battery life, Lenahan said. By year end, a new Intel chip will extend that “always on” battery life to six weeks.

The pager is expected to be available commercially in April. In May, the New York metropolitan area coverage should be completed and have resellers under contract. In September, the resellers are scheduled to launch the offering.

To enable a New York City area deployment, RAM Mobile is adding 60 base stations to increase in-building penetration by 50 percent, Lenahan said. Nationwide, the company now has 1,200 base stations. It needs 4,000 nationwide to offer “the equivalent of one-way paging,” he said. In three years, RAM hopes to have that number up and operational. Additionally, a new software product RAM is developing with Ericsson Inc. should boost the “ears” and the radius of each base station substantially, and is expected to be available by year’s end, he said.

Also by the end of this year, RAM hopes to have adequate coverage for its new service in nine other metropolitan areas: Washington, D.C./Baltimore; Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Next year, it hopes to fill in its coverage in 11 other metropolitan areas. By the end of 1999, the company plans to build out the remaining 266 of the 316 metropolitan statistical areas in which it has spectrum.

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