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New service brings radio to phones

MSpot offers streams of news and talk stations, as well as original music programming, for your cell phone.

Start-up MSpot hopes to take on the fledgling satellite radio industry with a new service that delivers streaming news, talk and music programming to mobile phones.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based MSpot is set to launch its MSpot Radio service on Monday, initially targeting customers of Sprint's PCS Vision mobile phone service.

The service will start out with 13 channels of live and on-demand programming, including feeds from National Public Radio. All programming is delivered as a streaming media feed over the Web, making it accessible by just about any Web-ready phone with an all-you-can-eat data plan. MSpot will charge $5.95 a month for the service.

MSpot CEO Daren Tsui said he expects to compete mainly with the burgeoning satellite radio industry by offering a service that's cheaper than XM or Sirius, doesn't require a special receiver and can penetrate inside buildings, as opposed to fickle satellite signals.

"Cell coverage may not be universal, but it's a lot better than satellite," he said.

MSpot initially will have only eight channels of broadly defined music programming, as opposed to the dozens offered by XM and Sirius, but Tsui said working through the Web means he can add new streams as soon as there's demand.

"We have the ability and the clearances to put up as many channels as we want," he said. "I can call my office and literally have a new channel streaming in five minutes."

The service initially will be offered only through Sprint, but Tsui said he expects to have the other major carriers onboard by the end of the year. He expects carriers to go for the service as a way to convince customers to upgrade to unlimited data plans and high-fi handsets.

Tsui also anticipates having an easier time selling the idea to consumers than satellite radio, thanks in part to the nature of the phone business. "Cellular subscribers have been trained to pay for everything they get on their handset," he said.

Virgin Radio recently introduced a similar free service for select 3G handsets.