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Helio Launches Pricey Cell Service

Los Angeles — Helio, the EarthLink-SK Telecom joint venture, launched its youth-oriented, but pricey, cellular service through an unusual mix of sales channels, including direct, music and video software chains; campus bookstores; authorized and master agents; and at least one regional electronics chain, Fry’s Electronics.

Almost 1,000 retail locations will offer the service by the end of May, with at least another 3,000 outlets planned by the end of the year.

The video and music chains carrying the product at launch FYE, Sam Goody, Wherehouse, Strawberries, Coconuts and Tower Records. Helio is also available at more than 100 college and university campus bookstores; authorized agents including Wireless Giant and Wireless Toyz; and key master agents, such as ERC, Horus, ING Wireless, Interactive Wireless Services, InTouch America, Top Notch Communications, Top Up Solutions and WDI Wireless.

The mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) launched nationally with two multimedia 800/1900MHz CDMA 1x EV-DO phones, which is calls “personal entertainment centers” and prices at $275 for the Pantech-supplied Hero and $250 for the VK Mobile-made Kickflip. Both phones feature 2-megapixel camera/video camera, 70MB embedded memory, TransFlash memory-card slot, MP3 playback, MPEG-4/H.264 video playback, stereo speakers and QVGA 2-inch by 2-inch 262K color LCD display.

The phones are bundled with a choice of three key post-paid price plans at $85, $100 and $135/month. Each plan entitles users to unlimited use of streaming video, multimedia messaging, Web browsing and MySpace and Yahoo! services. Music-video downloads cost $2.49 each. Anytime voice minutes included in the plans are 1,000. 1,500 and 2,500, respectively.

Subscribers can also choose an a la carte plan that includes 500 anytime minutes for $40/month and pay-as-you-use multimedia services.

The service is targeted to 18- to 32-year-old customers “who have their mobile device at the center of their universe,” said Helio CEO Sky Dayton.

The three target segments within that age group are young affluent trendsetters who want to get things first and will wait in line for them, people who are largely still in school and have “heavy entertainment and communications needs,” and fashion-conscious urban dwellers who see their phones as an expression of their selves, the company said.

Helio service thus includes such community features as MySpace on Helio, which is optimized for handsets’ small screens and delivers MySpace’s PC-based experience. Users can view profiles and photos of MySpace participants, read and write blogs on the go, send messages to profiled users, read and write MySpace mail and post photos to MySpace directly from the phone.

Helio service allows video, picture and text messaging to be sent to multiple friends at one time and supports video messages up to 1MB compared to other carriers’ 300KB limit. Subscribers can also attach up to three pictures to one message, create a slide show and broadcast the slide show to up to five friends at one time.

Helio On Top (HOT) service lets subscribers program live content feeds sent directly to their idle screen. Subscribers can personalize their live feeds by selecting from such sources as Fandango, FOX Sports, IGN, MTV News, MySpace, POPSUGAR, Surfline, The Onion and Yahoo!

In addition to downloadable 2D, 3D and multiplayer games, Helio’s game portal allows access to independent game ratings and reviews, animated previews of downloadable games and free “cheat codes” for purchased games. All Helio games are priced at a flat $5.99 to buy or rent for 99 cents a week.

Helio also lets users share purchased content. A gifting feature lets subscribers purchase a music video, game or personalized content directly from their handset and deliver it over the air to another Helio subscriber. Users can also “beg” another Helio member to purchase content for them.

Helio’s mobile Internet service offers Yahoo! Search, Yahoo! Mail, Yahoo! Messenger, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Photos, Yahoo! Finance and more.

The video streaming and download service features hundreds of music videos for download and streaming video clips from brands ABC, ABC News, FOX Soccer Channel, FOX Sports, FUEL TV, IGN, MTV Networks’ brands including Comedy Central, IFILM, Logo, MTV, Spike TV, VH1, Ripe TV, RocketBoom, Speed, and