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Tuesday, February 17, 2004
RealNetworks signs new carriers in handset battle

RealNetworks said on Tuesday it had signed up five telecom companies for its mobile media software, gaining access to 180 million subscribers in its battle with arch-rival Microsoft to stream music and video to handsets.

Spain's Telefonica Moviles, Italy's Wind and TIM, Britain's 02 and Sweden's TeliaSonera have chosen RealNetworks software to send video and music to mobile phones. Real earlier signed agreements with U.S.-based carriers AT&T Wireless and Sprint.

In the David-and-Goliath battle between the two Seattle-area software companies, RealNetworks' Player for desktop computers has been overtaken by Microsoft's Windows Media Player which comes pre-installed with its Windows operating system. The European Union is expected to rule that Microsoft abused its power.

But the mobile telecoms industry, unlike the computer industry, is not dominated by one software vendor such as Microsoft, and Real has managed to win lots of customers.

The deals follow last year's breakthrough agreement with Britain's Vodafone Group Plc, the world's biggest mobile telecoms operator, when it adopted Real's software to transmit items from classical music concerts to video feeds of traffic trouble spots to its more than 130 million global subscribers.

In another sign that mobile media is seen as an emerging opportunity, U.S. electronics maker Agilent said it would launch new wireless network software next week that enables more secure and reliable video services to handsets.

Mobile video is set to become a consumer's 'fourth screen' after television, cinema and the computer, especially as faster third-generation mobile networks allow for more picture detail, market research group Ovum said recently.

Real's announcements covered software for mobile networks, which allows operators to send media. But the firm also said it had found another customer for its player which, when installed on a handset, decodes the signals and plays video or music.

RealNetworks signed up Japanese-Swedish venture Sony Ericsson, which battles with South Korea's LG Electronics for fifth place in global handset rankings, to pre-install its media player in handsets.

Sony Ericsson currently uses software from one of Real's smaller rivals, PacketVideo. Israel's Emblaze is another rival.

Real's software already comes pre-installed on Nokia's 3650, 6600, 7650, N-Gage and other models, as well as Siemens's SX1. Motorola has said it will use Real's Player in Linux-based handsets, Palm uses the player in several of its handheld computer phones and Britain's handset maker Sendo uses RealPlayer in its smartphone model X.

But RealNetworks software in mobile networks allows streaming of other formats like the open MPEG4 format, Apple Computer's QuickTime and Windows Media Player. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

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