Sprint PCS goes to the videos

The wireless company unveils its own version of cell phone video, a service designed to let people exchange 15-second clips.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
2 min read
Sprint PCS on Wednesday unveiled its first wireless video service, Sprint Video Mail.

For an extra $5 a month, some PCS Vision subscribers can use their cell phone to record and e-mail an unlimited number of 15-second video clips. To take part, subscribers will have to upgrade to any of the four video phones that Sprint PCS plans to sell by mid-2004. The carrier introduced Wednesday its first video phone, the $379 Sanyo VM4500, which it plans to discount after signing a long-term service agreement.

Sprint PCS joins a growing number of U.S. service providers launching wireless video services as they continue hunting for different revenue sources. They're all hoping to re-create the popularity of video phones in Japan and Korea, where video mail, videoconferencing, and downloadable news clips and sports highlights have caught on.

"Some people believe what's happening there will translate to North America," said Dave Kumec, director of marketing for LightSurf Technologies, which is helping Sprint PCS offer its video mail service.

Carriers are embracing wireless downloadable video because of the speed of their present-day networks. In the late 1990s, a typical cell phone network was capable of about 19 kilobits per second, too slow for downloadable or streamed video to be anything more than a slide show of still images. U.S. carriers have all now built cell phone networks capable of 40kbps to 140kbps downloads, well in the comfort zone for video aficionados.

Sprint Video Mail uses the PCS Vision network, which at 70kbps can download a 15-second video clip in 30 seconds. AT&T Wireless, which began making RealNetworks content available to its mMode subscribers in November, has an average user experience of about 20kpbs to 40kbps. Its video service costs $4.95 per month plus usage fees.