Verizon Wireless today announced the launch of its "Mobile Web" service and a spate of partnerships with a variety of content providers. The services and information available over the wireless Web are exciting, but it is unclear how the top three wireless carriers will distinguish themselves.
Verizon Wireless is jointly owned by Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) (formerly Bell Atlantic and GTE), and Vodafone Airtouch (NYSE: VOD). For more on Verizon's recent history, check out Paul Larson's article on our Fool Research page.
It's not surprising that Verizon Wireless, which was formed in April, moved so quickly into the mobile Internet arena. As our Motley Fool Research report on the wireless Web points out, International Data Corporation estimates that there are perhaps 1.1 million Internet-ready phones today, but this number could explode to 112 million phones and handheld devices by 2004. Other estimates indicate that more people may access the Net through wireless handheld devices than with PCs by 2005. Clearly, a huge market is up for grabs over the next few years.
Wireless providers will try to win these customers with a wide variety of information and transaction services. Verizon has agreements with 32 different websites, including weather.com, E*Trade (Nasdaq: EGRP), Fidelity Investments, ABC News, ESPN, Hollywood.com, and TicketMaster Online-Citysearch (Nasdaq: TMCS), to provide weather forecasts, financial information, stock quotes, news, sports updates, and movie reviews, among other information. And thanks to an agreement with Strategy.com, a subsidiary of MicroStrategy (Nasdaq: MSTR), users can have customized information delivered to them. So, for example, your cell phone could alert you when one of your stocks drops 10% (not that you should necessarily do anything as a result, of course).
AT&T Wireless has similar partnerships with over 40 websites, including many of the same ones as Verizon, since few (if any) of these deals are exclusive. In another example of the race to provide content, AT&T Wireless today announced a partnership with American Online (NYSE: AOL) to provide AOL services over its network, including e-mail, news, and MovieFone local movie listings.
All of this certainly presents investment opportunities. Verizon Wireless itself is slated to go public later this year in what will likely be a huge IPO. However, it remains to be seen how the three leading wireless providers will distinguish themselves, given the rough similarity of the content and information each provides. Investors should keep an eye on these companies and their progress going forward. As mentioned earlier, our Internet Report on the Wireless Web would be an excellent place to start.
Let us know what you think of Verizon's future on the Verizon discussion board.
Two New Telecom Giants, Stock Research, 7/13/00