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Originally published Monday, September 19, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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RealNetworks streams tunes for Sprint

After the splashy launch of the Apple iTunes mobile phone earlier this month, Sprint is firing back with two music announcements, one of...

Seattle Times technology reporter

After the splashy launch of the Apple iTunes mobile phone earlier this month, Sprint is firing back with two music announcements, one of them being rolled out today by Seattle-based RealNetworks.

The two announcements up the ante in mobile music by getting closer to the ultimate goal — downloading music directly to the phone over the cellular network.

The new Sprint services allow some subscribers to stream live music to the phone in a radio-type format without having to buy a new phone or have lots of storage.

That differs from the iTunes phone, launched by Cingular Wireless, which requires users to purchase the Motorola Rokr phone and load music from a computer via a cable. The phone is also limited to 100 tracks.

"The great thing about streaming is that there's no memory requirement," said Kevin Nakao, RealNetworks' general manager of mobile services. "There's not a lot of handsets with memory out there. This is an easy and convenient way for customers to get and hear the music."

The service, Rhapsody Radio, is based on a similar service RealNetworks has for PCs that offers a selection of music channels and music downloads, along with artist information.

The mobile service is a simplified version and provides access to five music channels, podcasts, music news and videos. It also has a service created strictly for the mobile phone called "Beats N Breaks," which turns a mobile phone into a boombox and allows users to rap in karaoke-type fashion.

In addition, Sprint last week launched Sirius Satellite Radio programming on mobile phones, a stripped-down version of the service offered in the car or at home.

Both Sprint services are available on seven phones capable of using the Sprint PCS Vision Multimedia Service. The models are the Sanyo MM-7400, MM-5600 and MM-8300; the Samsung IP-A790, MM-A800 and MM-A880; and the LG MM-535.

Although neither streaming service is a new concept in the wireless industry, music services on mobile phones have gotten renewed attention in the past few weeks as carriers roll out more data applications, thinking that consumers are growing more savvy about using phones to do more than make calls.

"The iTunes announcement was a big wake-up call for the industry," said Roger Entner, vice president of wireless telecom research at Ovum. "A few other people have come up with the same idea; it's the first wave of it."

Entner thinks streaming radio will be more popular, with users able to listen on their current phones while waiting to upgrade with more memory later for music downloads.

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"If you do downloads, you need a sizable memory card on the handset," Entner said. "If you have an older handset, this [radio] service is immediately available to anybody."

Nakao pointed to Beats N Breaks as one of the more attractive parts of the service because it doesn't duplicate something found on the PC service.

In a video RealNetworks shot of a focus group, four young men use the phone as if it were a mic and pass it around a table. When one picks it up, he's expected to come up with lyrics on the fly.

Nakao said he never expected the phone to be used like that, especially when the group started using it in a spin-the-bottle-type fashion to decide who would rap next.

"There's a whole new series of things we've never thought of before," he said. "A lot of people didn't think ringtones were going to be successful, but they are a way of expressing who they are."

Sprint spokeswoman Jackie Bostick said the Rhapsody and Sirius services were added to two other streaming-music options: MusicChoice and Mspot. She declined to release subscriber rates, but said Sprint chose to add more offerings because of the success of the older features.

"Music is by far consistently one of the top channels," Bostick said. "We've seen demand and interest continue in that space."

In addition to offering music channels, Bostick said Sprint has personalization services such as ringtones or music-video downloads. It also has a music player in which songs can be transferred from the computer.

Next up, Bostick said, is the launch of an over-the-air music service by the end of the year.

Separately, Sprint has also launched the Sprint PCS VisionSM Smart Device (PPC-6700). As the first device using Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 software, the PocketPC device features Microsoft Office applications, including Outlook Mobile and the new PowerPoint Mobile.

The phone will run on Sprint's high-speed 3G network and be capable of using Wi-Fi connections.

The device, made by UTStarcom Personal Communications (formerly Audiovox Communications), also has Bluetooth, a mini-keyboard and a 1.3-megapixel camera.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com

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