01.03.2005 11:34 AM
Time Warner poised to offer content to mobile phones

Time Warner Cable is in talks to offer mobile phone service over Sprint Corp.’s network on a trial basis early this year.

If a deal is struck, Time Warner Cable would be the only major cable company to offer mobile phone service, meaning it could offer television, high-speed Internet access, traditional phone service and wireless phone service.

Time Warner Cable and Sprint confirmed they were in talks, but declined to discuss timing or other details. Reports said the calls would travel over Sprint’s cellular network and Time Warner would handle billing, customer service and marketing.

Reuters reported that Time Warner is the first out of the gate, even as several top cable television providers are considering working together to offer wireless services. In fact, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Cox Communications, Charter Communications and several other cable companies are members of a consortium that has hired investment bank Merrill Lynch to investigate opportunities in the wireless arena.

Adding wireless services as part of cable’s offerings bundle will help it distinguish its services from rival telephone companies, which are vying to break into the video services market, analysts said.

Sprint, which in December agreed to buy Nextel Communications for $35 billion, has previously established similar ventures with other companies. It currently operates a joint venture with Britain’s Virgin Group (VA.UL) that targets the youth market. Nextel separately operates Boost Mobile aimed at a similar audience.

Other wireless operators are also seeking to tap into a new market for customers through the cable industry. T-Mobile USA, a unit of Deutsche Telekom, has said it is interested in finding cable partners, according to an interview with chief executive Kai-Uwe Ricke in the Financial Times Deutschland.

The initial Time Warner Cable trial would start in Kansas City in the first quarter of this year. It is likely that the trial would start with employees and other pre-selected customers and then gradually expand before becoming available for the entire city.

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