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Carriers Outline Music, Video, Data Plans

Orlando, Fla. — Carriers’ priorities this year, based on announcements made at the CTIA show, include video calling, mobile TV, rollouts of high-speed data networks and taking Apple head-on in the MP3 phone category.

AT&T offered additional details about its planned cellular videophone service, carrier Verizon announced plans to aggressively advertise its MediaFLO-based mobile-TV service, and Sprint Nextel stepped up its MP3 aggressiveness with its dual-sided MP3-phone and a sharp drop in the cost of downloading music to a phone over the cellular airwaves.

Here’s what the carriers said:

AT&T/Cingular: The company revealed additional details about its planned cellular videophone service, saying it would launch the service in 50 of its HSDPA markets in the summer. The service will enable one-way video streaming from one HSDPA phone to another during a two-way voice call, and “in a short time,” the phones will stream to PCs and TVs,” said AT&T COO Randall Stephenson.

In a related announcement, the carrier said it will add HSDPA to another 58 to 65 markets this year on top of the 165 markets already in HSDPA operation. The carrier will also add high-speed uplink packer access (HSUPA) technology to its HSDPA network this year to boost a phone’s upload speeds. HSUPA network trials start in April. When carriers offer HSUPA and HSDPA service simultaneously, their network is said to feature high speed packet access (HSPA) service.

The carrier’s first HSUPA products will be PC Card modems.

Helio: The Ocean handset rolls in “soon” at $295 with contract, a spokesperson said. The MVNO described the CDMA 1x EV-DO phone as the first “dual-keypad slider” in the United States, pointing to a dialing keypad that slides down vertically and a separate QWERTY keypad that slides out horizontally. The main display reorients itself into landscape mode when the QWERTY keypad is pulled out.

A competing phone that features horizontal and vertical sliding capability actually features one sliding surface that shares the dialing and QWERTY keypad, Helio said, but the Ocean’s dialing and QWERTY keypads are each embedded in separate sliding surfaces.

Helio designed the phone, which was built by Pantech.

It also features the ability to view Web pages in full HTML.

Sprint Nextel: To support the commercial launch of Mobile WiMAX. Sprint said it is finalizing deals with three device makers. The carrier plans to offer a single-mode WiMAX PC Card modem and a dual-mode WiMAX/CDMA 1x EV-DO version. ZTE will offer a single-mode WiMAX Express Card and USB Card as well as a desktop modem. ZyCell will also offer WiMAX modems.

The carrier reiterated its plans to launch Mobile WiMAX service in select markets by year’s end and expand the network by the end of 2008 to markets with a combined population of 100 million people.

In another announcement, the carrier said it will offer Samsung’s M620 dual-sided MP3 phone during the first week of April at $149 and included 1GB memory card with two-year contract. Sprint calls it the Upstage.

Also to step up its aggressiveness in the MP3 market, Sprint dropped the price of its music downloads effective the first week of April to $0.99 from $2.49 for a dual download, which consists of one download over the cellular network to the phone and a separate download of the same song to a broadband-connected home PC. The pricing equals the 99-cent pricing of most other authorized download sites for a single download to a PC.

To get the 99-cent price, however, Sprint users must subscribe to a Sprint data service plan. Otherwise, the dual-download price goes back to $2.49. At Verizon Wireless and Helio, the price for a dual download is $1.99, but users don’t have to subscribe to a data plan.

Sprint’s dual-sided bar phone features multimedia controls and LCD display on one side and phone keypad another LCD display on the other side. It will be the U.S. market’s first dual-sided MP3 phone, Samsung said, and it will be one of 10 phones capable of downloading songs over the air from Sprint’s music store.

The Upstage is only 0.37 inches thick, but when the phone is snapped into included wallet-type extended battery, thickness approximately doubles, and music playback time is extended to more than 16 hours. Talktime goes to 6.5 hours with the “battery wallet.”

Verizon Wireless: The carrier said it began promoting its MediaFLO-based Mobile TV service in Kansas City, St. Louis and Denver for a couple of weeks and will expand the promotion to all of its MediaFLO markets about a week after the show. MediaFLO is up and operating in about 22 Verizon markets.

The company held off extensive advertising until its second MediaFLO-equipped phone became available and it could be sure the network was operating properly. The second phone, available March 27, is an LG model at $199 after $50 rebate and with two-year cellular contract. Most ads will appear on TV, supplemented by print to show the LG phone and a Samsung TV phone at $149 (after $50 rebate and two-year contract).