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Sprint PCS to talk wireless data

The carrier is expected to present fresh evidence at CES that U.S. cell phone users are showing more interest in wireless data. It will also unveil new offerings related to downloadable games.

Sprint PCS is expected to present fresh evidence Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show that U.S. cell phone subscribers are showing more interest in using wireless data.

The nation's fourth-largest carrier is expected to announce that some of its ring tones have been downloaded more than 500,000 times and that more than 16 million ring tones and screensavers have been sold in the past four months.

Sprint's downloadable game sales are also quickening their pace. In September, cell phone game sales passed the 4 million sales threshold, the company is expected to report Thursday. The carrier plans to maintain the momentum by adding new games from Gameloft to its line-up and launching Game Lobby, an online club for Sprint PCS game players.

The recent data successes at Sprint and other cell phone service providers highlight how U.S. subscribers are beginning in significant numbers to buy 99-cent ring tones, send 10-cent wireless photo messages and other data-oriented offerings, just as carriers hoped they would.

U.S. cell phone service providers need the sales of these items to boom to help replace the shrinking amount they are earning selling voice calls. It's a business plan that's working in some Asian markets, where three-quarters of subscribers spend more money on data, such as videoconferencing or sending 15-second videos recorded on camera phones, than they do on phone calls.

But its been much tougher to spark interest among the United States' 142 million cell phone subscribers, a general malaise blamed partly on carriers initially failing to spend marketing dollars trumpeting their data services. "Now we're getting loud about our data," said Jim Ryan, vice president of Cingular Wireless' data product management and business marketing group.

"In Europe, between 50 (percent) and 70 percent of cell phone subscribers use short text messaging. But in this country, we are magnitudes behind that," Ryan said. "But I would submit that there's a steep growth rate going on right now in the U.S."

Cingular is coming off one of its best ever financial quarters for wireless data, with data revenue increasing 104 percent, 300 million short text messages a month being sent and one in three of its 22.6 million subscribers now equipped with the carrier's fastest Internet-ready phones.

Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest cell phone service provider, says 2 percent of its revenue comes from data usage. Each month, subscribers send 400 million text messages, 4 million software downloads and 2 million picture messages, according to its latest Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Nearly 5 million AT&T Wireless subscribers spend than $3.50 a month extra on text messaging, and 40 percent of the company's new GSM customers are paying an average of $7 to $8 a month on its mMode wireless data service, a company spokesman says.