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Verizon taps Microsoft for mobile TV

Cell phone service's "mobisodes" will be driven by Windows Media technology.

Verizon Wireless said Wednesday that it will use Microsoft's Windows Media technology as part of the foundation of its new cell phone streaming video service.

Expected to launch in early February, Verizon's V Cast is one of the most ambitious video programming services aimed at U.S. cell phone customers, although European and Asian countries already have similar options. The company will provide access to clips from Comedy Central and VH-1, as well as some original programming.

The agreement marks a step forward for Microsoft into the mobile realm, where it has historically had some difficulty establishing traction.

"It's one in a bucket of many small victories," said Gartner analyst Michael King. "They haven't penetrated far, in part because the carriers themselves are a little nervous around Microsoft. But they are going to be in the space."

The mobile entertainment market is growing speedily in Europe and Asia, with video and music services for cell phones beginning to reach a mainstream audience. U.S. carriers, which have lagged their overseas counterparts in moving to speedy data networks, are only just beginning to experiment with multimedia.

Microsoft rival RealNetworks has tried hard to gain a head start on its larger competitor, working with handset makers and mobile carriers around the world to provide support for its audio and video formats. Carriers are also using standards-based technologies such as MPEG-4.

However, Microsoft has benefited from partnering with the smaller PacketVideo, which provides multimedia software for many big cell phone companies. PacketVideo, which Verizon is using on its phones, has supported Microsoft's Windows Media technology for several years.

A handful of other video services are moving ahead on U.S. cell phone networks as well. On Tuesday, Cingular Wireless said it will offer access to MobiTV's live TV service on several of its advanced phones. Sprint also offers video content to its subscribers.

Verizon's video service will be available beginning Feb. 1 on three phones including the LG VX8000 from LG Mobile Phones, Samsung's SCH-a890 and the CDM-8940 from UTStarcom Personal Communications.