Virgin Mobile's postpaid Helio service will offer a second-generation Ocean dual-slider phone beginning Feb. 12 in limited distribution channels, but the new CDMA 1x EV-DO device will roll out in early summer to a broader selection of retailers, Virgin said.
“We will rebuild Helio's indirect channel and probably expand it beyond Helio's previous distribution,” a spokesperson said in referring to Virgin's August 2008 purchase of Helio. Virgin bought Helio, the ailing postpaid mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), to complement its own prepaid MVNO service. Like Virgin, Helio resold airtime on the Sprint Nextel CDMA network.
Helio service and phones had previously been distributed through six Helio-owned stores, direct-sales kiosks, master agents to small retailers, and select Best Buy and Fry's stores, the spokesperson said. Virgin Mobile's distribution was much broader and today includes 40,000 indirect outlets. Virgin added Sears and master agent American Wireless in 2008. Other Virgin channels include Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target, 7-11, CVS and other drug chains.
On Feb. 12, the $149 800/1900MHz Ocean 2 will be available on Virgin's Web site, direct telesales and a small number of master agents who will make the phone available to hundreds of stores, the spokesperson said.
With the launch, the selection of phones with the Helio by Virgin Mobile brand will grow to four, including the original Ocean, which will remain in the line at a reduced price of $79. Both Helio models feature a slide-down dialing keypad and a slide-from-the-side QWERTY keyboard.
For an additional $70, the Ocean 2 adds a variety of improvements. They include a 2.6-inch screen, up from 2.2 inches; 15 fps video playback, up from 12 fps; touch-sensitive navigation pad vs. five-way directional pad, for speedier and more fluid scrolling through Qeb pages and email; simultaneous music playback while other functions are operated; a 3.5mm headphone jack vs. 2.5mm; a full HTML browser that now supports tabs; threaded SMS and MMS messaging; the addition of H.264 video decoding to join MPEG-4; and the addition of Google Talk instant messaging to join three other IM services, including AOL and Yahoo.
Another enhancement is Tell Me voice-activated local search service, available on the Mysto handset but not on the first-generation Ocean.
The new phone and other post-paid Helio phones will also take advantage of Connect service, a new service that aggregates social network portals for viewing on one page.
(For more information, see story at www.TWICE.com.)