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RealNetworks signs wireless deal

A deal with a spinoff of France Telecom promises to yield software that will help content providers and carriers stream video and audio to new cell phones and other wireless devices.

A new deal will let RealNetworks offer content providers and wireless carriers the ability to use the MPEG-4 compression standard to stream audio and video to next-generation cell phones and other mobile devices.

The agreement, announced late Monday, expands an already existing relationship between the streaming-media company and Envivio, a San Francisco-based spinoff of France Telecom whose software encodes video in accordance with the MPEG-4 standard.

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When RealNetworks first said it would offer MPEG-4 support, in December, it did so through Envivio plug-ins.

MPEG-4 is the successor to MPEG-1 and MPEG-2, the technologies behind the MP3 audio explosion. Like its predecessors, MPEG-4 includes audio and video technologies that condense large digital files into smaller ones that can be easily transferred via a network.

Under the deal, RealNetworks and Envivio will codevelop a product called the Mobile Producer that will allow both people producing audio and video content and wireless carriers serving it over their networks to transform content in any format into an MPEG-4 stream with a file size, frame rate and bit rate that the next generation of cell phones and handheld devices can digest. The Mobile Producer will also encode content into the RealAudio and RealVideo formats, creating an all-in-one tool for MPEG-4 and Real technologies.

"This will give people the ability to transform any kind of video into an MPEG-4-compliant stream with better compression and targeted at these new mobile devices," said Julien Signès, chief technology officer and cofounder of Envivio. "To offer video services is going to change the usage of mobile devices generally, so people aren't restricted just to a voice services anymore."

RealNetworks' Mobile Producer, based on Envivio's encoder, will support file formats approved by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), including MPEG-4, AAC, N-AMR and H.263.

Significant hurdles remain, though, before the Mobile Producer starts generating widely deployed content, at least in this country. While so-called third-generation mobile phones are available in Japan, they have been slow to appear in the United States.

The deal represents an effort on RealNetworks' part to broaden its horizons. The company has been under fire in its server business from Microsoft--which offers a free alternative--and has been emphasizing alternative revenue sources, particularly those associated with the wireless market. Executives have described the company's recent decision to put crucial parts of its software into open source development as a means of letting mobile device manufacturers more easily support Real software in their products.

Envivio declined to speculate on when the Mobile Producer would be available. RealNetworks was not available for comment.