Market Quotes On The Go

Face it. You're a stock market junkie. In your office, you're glued

to the Bloomberg terminal. At home, your constant companions are financial news anchors droning away on CNBC and CNN/FN. But how do you get your fix when you're commuting, traveling on business, or out on the fairway? No problem. Think wireless.

An array of new pagers, Internet-ready cell phones, and personal digital assistants (PDAs) are helping traders monitor equities and other financial instruments virtually anyplace, anytime. They can give you up-to-the-second quotes, and some will even alert you when your favorite stocks hiccup or when there's news that may affect your holdings.

One nifty wireless market monitor recently made its debut, courtesy of Reuters America and Aether Technologies International. Their MarketClip delivers real-time quotes, charts, options sorted by put or call, and market summaries to anyone carting a 3Com PalmPilot Professional PDA or Windows CE-based Hewlett-Packard 360LX. Information is beamed by cellular networks covering most U.S. metropolitan areas. The bulky PalmPilot version I tested cost $875, including the Novatel Wireless Minstrel modem. The HP unit, which is even bigger, commands $1,400, including a Sierra Wireless modem.

Activating MarketClip costs $100 up front, then $115 a month. As with all the services mentioned in this story, you must shell out extra monthly fees, ranging from about $5 to $88, to obtain access to live quotes from the various financial exchanges.

Reuters is plunging into a crowded wireless field. For instance, mobile investors can employ QuoteXpress, Commodity Xpress, and SplitXpress from DataLink Systems in San Jose, Calif., to receive alerts on major pager carriers when the price of a stock hits a prespecified target or fluctuates by a certain percentage. QuoteXpress starts at $37.50 a month with a beeper, or $17.50 if you already own one, and includes 50 alerts per month. Additional alerts cost 45 cents each. CommodityXpress carries a $70 monthly tab with pager, or $50 if you have another DataLink service. The SplitXpress service will notify you of stock splits, earnings forecast changes, and mergers. Cost: $110 to $130.

For some time, Data Broadcasting (DBC) has been leasing a handheld FM receiver called QuoTrek. The device stores up to 127 stock symbols and delivers real-time quotes, headlines, gainers and losers, and so on. You'll pay a one-time activation fee of $125 for the calculator-size device, on top of a monthly fee of $100 for the stock quotes. Each commodity costs $30 a month. The device carries a clumsy two-foot antenna. But DBC recently joined forces with AT&T Wireless Services and Sierra Wireless to beam real-time quotes and news to laptop computers equipped with Sierra's AirCard or other wireless modems. You must subscribe to DBC's Signal Online or StockEdge Online services, which cost $79 to $150 a month. You'll be able to create a customized ticker and receive charts reflecting each day's stock movements, among other features.

For all their promise, wireless services still have drawbacks. The news feature on the Reuters MarketClip was disappointing. When I tapped a news tab on the screen next to, up popped a baffling headline: "US junk bond mkt eyes Oxford health deal." You'd have to know that Amazon had done a big junk offering to get the connection. Reuters says full stories will be available later this year for an extra fee.

SPOTTY COVERAGE. Wireless devices also can't be counted on to work well indoors, and coverage can be spotty outside big cities. Moreover, "you can't act on the information instantly without using another device," notes Phillip Redman, an analyst at the Yankee Group consulting firm. You still need to carry a phone or laptop to hook up to an online broker.

But this is changing. In May, WolfeTech and InfoSpace announced they would be able to deliver real-time quotes over two-way paging networks that currently run on certain Research in Motion and Motorola pagers. WolfeTech says trading will be possible in future months.

Meanwhile, a New York company, W-TRADE Technologies, has developed a system for trading securely over PDAs, two-way pagers, and other wireless Internet-ready devices. W-TRADE is selling the system to online brokers who will market the service to customers. Wall Street Discount Corp. (888 492-5578) is already accepting trades. You still won't be able to buy and sell when, say, scuba diving off Florida. But the way things are headed, that can't be too far off, either.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.