TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Sprint, Verizon Opening Doors to Mobile Content

Sprint, Verizon Opening Doors to Mobile Content

Lisa Minter (
Sat, 18 Jun 2005 13:35:28 -0500

By Antony Bruno

Sprint and Verizon Wireless may soon lower the walls on their
networks, allowing their subscribers greater access to third-party
content, including ringtones and graphics.

The mobile phone giants are responding to U.S. cell phone users'
growing interest in buying content from sources other than their
wireless carrier.

Allowing subscribers to access non-network content is a common
practice for mobile operators in Europe, as well as U.S. carriers
Cingular, Nextel and T-Mobile.

Sprint and Verizon, however, have taken a "walled garden" approach,
restricting content to that offered directly through their own
delivery portals.

Sprint is testing a system that would let content providers target its
subscribers with sales and marketing campaigns through premium SMS
messaging, otherwise known as "short codes."

A short code is a four- or five-digit number that works like an e-mail
address but across various wireless carriers. Companies can place the
short code in their advertising to generate customer responses.

In turn, subscribers can send a text message to a short code to
request information or make purchases. The reply is delivered to the
subscriber as a text message attachment. The charge is added to the
mobile bill.


According to John Styers, Sprint director of data communications
services, the carrier is conducting short-code delivery trials with
various partners, including Sony BMG and Warner Music Group.

"Both of them are in the midst of launching a premium SMS service," he
says. "They want to be able to offer on their artist-specific Web
sites the artists' content in ringtone fashion through SMS. So we are
working with them to launch some of their artists' Web sites as well."

He says Sprint will slowly open its network after these trials, based
on technology performance and customer feedback.

Verizon, which has operated the most tightly controlled network of all
U.S. carriers, uses a content delivery system called BREW. Only
content written and delivered via the BREW system can operate on
Verizon's network and phones.

But Qualcomm, which created the BREW technology, has introduced a new
version that would support non-BREW content. Sources say Verizon has
told content aggregators that it intends to open its network to
off-portal content before the end of the year. The carrier declined to
comment for this story.

According to executives at QPass, a wireless transaction management
firm, off-portal sales in the United States are beginning to
explode. The company manages the off-portal sales activity for
Cingular, Nextel, Boost Mobile and other carriers that together
represent about half of the U.S. market.

In the last year, these carriers have seen off-portal content sales
grow at a compound annual rate of 410 percent. In the last six months,
total off-portal sales activity skyrocketed 1,024 percent, with a
month-over-month growth of 141 percent this past quarter alone.

Even with the crumbling of these garden walls, however, less than 10
percent of all wireless content transactions in the United States are
non-carrier. This pales in comparison with Europe, where about 80
percent of all mobile content sold is off-portal.


Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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