December 9, 2001 9:00 PM PST

AT&T Wireless testing wireless video

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AT&T Wireless is testing equipment from RealNetworks that streams music videos or sports highlights to wireless devices.

AT&T Wireless stressed that it is just in the testing phase, and that no one should view the trials as a sign the company will soon be selling downloads of Britney Spears videos to customers. The arrangement was scheduled to be announced Monday.

"We have made no firm commitments in terms of even if we are going to bring this to market," said Jeremy Pemble, an AT&T Wireless spokesman. "This really is an initial technology trial."

Carriers like AT&T Wireless are now deciding what to offer customers who sign up for wireless service. Most carriers are building the networks, which will offer speeds up to 56kbps, or roughly seven times faster than what their subscribers get now.

AT&T already has its high-speed network running in Florida, as well as in a dozen cities including Detroit, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Seattle. Most of its services involve sending and receiving text messages or functions for business consumers.

VoiceStream Wireless recently announced that customers can connect to its new, faster network and access e-mail. Cingular Wireless is also launching a higher-speed network in Seattle and just signed a roaming deal with VoiceStream that will let it reach most of the United States.

Streaming video, along with online gaming and video messaging, is among several services carriers may offer. Analysts, though, have serious doubts about streaming video. The American public has too many other ways to watch videos, rather than using the small, cramped screen of a wireless device, analysts say.

Furthermore, initial wireless video efforts like those of PacketVideo or AKTV have been slow to take off.

Ovum wireless analyst Robin Hearn used the PacketVideo service--which is generally regarded as the most advanced to date--and was unimpressed.

"It was streaming. It was wireless. But it was not very good and not very compelling," he said. "But it worked, and that's the fundamental thing everyone is looking at. But I'm not going to be downloading Barry Bonds' latest home run on my phone."

Gregg Makuch, senior product manager for RealNetworks, doesn't doubt the reasons for the naysayers. But he says he's encouraged by the results of commercial introduction of wireless streaming video services in Europe and Asia.

Consumers in these areas can download music videos such as Busta Rhymes' song "What Is It" or videos detailing how to jump-start your car. The service only works for owners of the Nokia Communicator, which has a RealNetworks media player pre-installed.

NTT DoCoMo began offering a video download service on its network. Sources believe Sprint, which has already run trials with PacketVideo, is also looking to introduce wireless music videos.

"You have to start somewhere," Makuch said. "There is a critical-mass element in getting the ball rolling."

The three European carriers now in trials with the RealNetworks equipment are Sonera, one of Finland's largest wireless carriers; StarHub Mobil in Singapore; and Spanish carrier Telefonica Moviles Espana.

 

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