AOL Mexico rolls out mobile service

Got a late meeting with your amigos downtown to watch the World Cup soccer game? Need to check how your Telmex stock is doing, now? Mexicans on the go may be happy to hear that AOL Mexico rolled out its AOL Mobile service Monday, offering the company’s content and features, including e-mail access, to Mexican consumers with Internet-enabled cell phones.

Starting immediately, all Mexican consumers can log on to the company’s mobile service by typing into their handset to access information such as news and stock quotes for no additional cost beyond their normal cell-phone fees. Additionally, AOL Mexico members can access their existing AOL e-mail accounts through the service.

The Mexican launch of AOL Mobile comes as part of America Online Latin America Inc.’s strategy to extend its wireless offerings in the region. The service was already launched in Brazil in September of last year, giving the company a foothold in Latin America’s two largest Internet markets.

“We see this wireless access as an added-value service,” said Fernando Figueredo, a representative for AOL Latin America.

Cell phone sales have surged in Mexico over the last few years, and the mobile units now outnumber fixed-lines phones. By the end of last year, Mexico had more than 14 million wireless subscribers, compared to 12.3 million fixed lines.

Still, the North American region in general has been slower at adopting Internet-enabled phones than Europe.

“It’s still very early,” said Rodrigo Goes, a Latin American telecom analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston. “It will be a few years before we see any real penetration.”

Goes also pointed out that one-way short message systems (SMS) have taken off in Brazil and may zap some of the market before Internet-enabled phones really take off.

There’s no doubt, however, that both Mexico and Brazil see a bright future in wireless. AOL’s Figueredo pointed to an International Data Corp. (IDC) forecast of wireless penetration in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. The numbers jump from 2.7 million at year-end 2001 to 6.5 million at the end of 2002 to 12 million at year-end 2003.

As Goes said, “This market is changing fast.”

IDC is owned by International Data Group Inc., the parent company of the IDG News Service.

AOL Latin America, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., can be reached at