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AT&T's text-only device debuts

$18-a-month message service targets youths

Aiming to please "texting-crazed" young Americans, AT&T Wireless Services Inc. is today launching a hand-held device called Ogo that lets people send unlimited text messages, instant messages, and e-mails for $18 a month.

What's notable is one thing the cellphone giant's new unit does not do: make phone calls.

AT&T Wireless offers dozens of phones that can also be used for e-mail and instant messaging, but Ogo, which costs $100 after a promotional rebate, will be the sole text-only device the company is actively marketing. AT&T Wireless also sells five models of the BlackBerry messaging unit, but all have built-in phones.

The Ogo weighs five ounces and is roughly 4 inches wide, 3 inches tall, and 1 inch thick, with a 26-letter keyboard designed for thumbs. It will enable subscribers to use instant messaging and Web-based e-mail services from America Online, MSN, and Yahoo.

The $18 monthly fee covers one of those three, plus the same 160-character-per-message text-messaging service provided by AT&T Wireless for cellphones. Subscribers can add a second and third e-mail and IM provider for $3 per month each.

AT&T Wireless is weeks away from closing its $41 billion sale to Cingular Wireless LLC, but executives said they saw no reason to delay getting the Ogo onto the market. Andre Dahan, president of AT&T Wireless's mobile multimedia services unit, said the Redmond, Wash., carrier wanted to create "an entirely new category" of consumer communications device.

"Unlike many of today's disappointing multipurpose wireless devices, we created Ogo to do one thing, mobile messaging, extraordinarily well," Dahan said. "Ogo doesn't pretend to be all things to all people and is not bogged down by hardly-used features or an out-of-reach price tag."

Spokesman Martin A. Nee said AT&T thinks a key market could be parents with teens and preteens who want their kids to have a price-capped way to communicate, but no risk they will run up huge phone bills.

AT&T Wireless engineers designed the overall concept for the unit, which can consolidate e-mail and text messages from several accounts, and then had IXI Mobile Inc. of Redwood City, Calif., work with Asian manufacturers to produce the unit.

The few close competitors for the Ogo are two-way text pagers sold by Arch Wireless Operating Company Inc. of Westborough, the biggest US provider of conventional beepers and pagers. Arch sells a $100 Webster 100 with service plans ranging from $10 to $40 a month, based on how many messages are sent. Arch reported fewer than 270,000 two-way messaging units in service as of the end of June, and it has been losing roughly 3,000 two-way-pager customers a month over the past year. After focusing on exiting bankruptcy and paying off debt, Arch has in recent months been consumed with executing a merger with Metrocall Holdings Inc. and has not aggressively marketed its mobile messaging services.

Mark Lowenstein, managing director of Mobile Ecosystem, a Wellesley consulting firm, said the Ogo device may prove popular for "a youth market that covets text messaging and IM. A BlackBerry is too expensive for them."

Lowenstein said T-Mobile USA "has had moderate but not significant success with the Sidekick," the so-called hip-top computer made by Danger Inc. that T-Mobile sells for $250. The Sidekick has a built-in phone, and T-Mobile charges either $60 a month for unlimited messaging and 600 minutes of phone calls or $30 a month for unlimited messaging and 20 cents a minute for phone calls.

Lowenstein said he does not expect Ogo to be a huge seller for AT&T Wireless, which has 21.7 million subscribers, but "If 5 percent of the market bought a device like this, that would be a big success for AT&T," he said.

Peter J. Howe can be reached at howe@globe.com.

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