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Midwest Wireless adds live TV to list of cellular services

Midwest Wireless, a cell-phone provider serving areas of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, has started broadcasting live television to phones through the MobiTV network, a product of Idetic in California.

The service costs $8.59 per month and provides access to 21 channels, including several for news, sports, music videos and cartoons as well as the Discovery Channel, CNet's technology broadcast and others.

People typically use the service for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, said Mary Burczyk, a marketing consultant for Idetic. She added that the company can track usage patterns, but they are not tied to the identities of cell-phone customers.

"Obviously they're on the go," she said. "It can be when they're waiting in line ... we see people tuning it up midday or during their breaks."

In addition to standard cable channels, MobiTV includes a version of NBC news formatted for small screens, with more tightly cropped images and larger text.
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Burczyk said cell-phone users must first download a program for their phone from the wireless provider. This works on certain phones that support Java or Brew applications. Midwest Wireless is initially supporting the LG VX 6000 and the Audiovox 8900.

Battery life while viewing video is better than most people think, she said, and phones could last for two to three hours of continuous use. With 10- or 15-minute viewing sessions, that may not mean more trips to the charger than normal.

Watching TV uses up data minutes, rather than voice minutes, on a calling plan, so Idetic recommends using it with a plan that offers unlimited data transfer for a flat rate.

Sprint PCS launched MobiTV for its customers in November 2003. A spokesperson said Sprint does not disclose how many subscribers it has, but that MobiTV is supported on most entry-level phones and plans. AT&T Wireless, now joined with Cingular, followed last fall. Burczyk said Idetic is still looking to expand.

"We're talking to [almost all the] major national and regional carriers," she said.

Jason Stitt is a WTN editor and can be reached at jason@wistechnology.com.

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