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Sprint gets Real for wireless

The phone company enhances its effort to push wireless services to its PCS customers, signing a content delivery deal with multimedia software maker RealNetworks.

Mobile
Sprint on Monday enhanced its effort to push wireless services to its PCS customers, signing a content delivery deal with multimedia software maker RealNetworks.

The RealNetworks agreement is the latest in a string of partnerships that Sprint has formed to encourage wireless users to upgrade to more powerful handsets and tap into its growing array of high-end services. In recent months, Sprint has made similar deals around various forms of content with device maker Samsung and Internet service provider EarthLink.

Under the RealNetworks deal, Sprint wireless users will be able to access news, stock market performance, sports highlights, weather forecasts and movie reviews via the multimedia software maker's RealOne player on handsets equipped with Sprint's PCS Vision service. Sprint heralded the pact as the next step in its wireless audio and multimedia strategy and the first step between the two companies to deliver enhanced video and audio to wireless phones.

The multimedia service will be available to Sprint PCS customers for $4.95 per month and will include four hours of new content each day, according to the companies. Users must have a full-color, Java-enabled PCS Vision handset to access the content.

"With RealNetworks, Sprint has a great new partner with proven expertise in delivering on-demand content to a broad base of customers," Chip Novick, vice president of consumer marketing for the PCS division of Sprint, said in a statement.

Among the multimedia content Sprint users can access via the RealNetworks service is news from ABC News, CBS MarketWatch and National Public Radio; sports from Fox Sports and The Sporting News; weather forecasts from The Weather Channel; and entertainment such as horoscopes provided by ABC and other sources.

Sprint recently reported that it was carrying 2.1 million PCS Vision customers at the end of the second quarter. Other PCS Vision services include picture phone, Internet connectivity, e-mail and games.

Charles Golvin, senior analyst at Forrester Research, said that though he doesn't expect the Sprint-RealNetworks deal to touch off a wave of popularity for wireless multimedia applications, there are benefits in the deal for both companies.

The agreement helps RealNetworks in its bid to establish RealPlayer among consumers as a standard way to receive wireless content, according to Golvin.

"Usage remains driven largely by early adopters at this point, but it's important for RealNetworks to become the default vehicle for multimedia services," he said.

Golvin said RealNetworks' recent deal with European wireless provider Vodafone also suggests the software maker is building its credibility in the market.

While Sprint may be confusing some users with the sheer number of high-end services it is offering, Golvin said the RealNetworks pact should further Sprint's long-term goal of encouraging people to embrace new wireless technologies.

"Right now, Sprint probably has too many products out there, which could make it hard for users to differentiate between them," said Golvin. "But when you consider that they already claim over 2 million customers (for PCS Vision), it's clear they are having some success."

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