Telus Launches Mobile Radio - More Canadian Disruption

Late yesterday, Telus announced a deal with XM Radio to offer a subscription service of streaming radio - the first offering of its kind in Canada.

And now, the rest of the story. First off, this is pretty neat in itself, although you really have to wonder who needs to listen to radio over their telephone? Well, of course we're talking satellite radio - not everyday AM or FM - and this is just another distribution channel for a subscription service. So, presuming you're a fan of commercial-free, specialized programming, this adds a cool factor to your mobile experience. They're offering a 20 channel package of stations for $15/month, delivered using streaming audio, and it's part of a bigger push for Telus's new brand, Spark, which is their suite of multimedia applications to run over the latest and greatest (and expensive) handsets.

You have to give Telus credit for taking the lead with some innovative services to make mobile fun and cool. On the home front, I wanted to note this, as Telus is typically ahead of the other Canadian service providers when it comes to new services, for both the consumer and business markets. And mobile radio is a wireless application, another example of what Telus is doing to improve its competitive position in the mobility market, which really is the driver of their growth - and stock price.

On a broader front, SprintNextel has been doing the same with Sirius since last September. I don't know what the uptake has been with it, but their 20 channel package was launched at a much lower price point - $6.95/mo. Verizon Wireless's V Cast service has streaming video and music downloads, but no satellite radio. So, it's fair to say that Telus is ahead of the pack in North America, and is another example of the good things that continue to come out of Canada in the telecom space. No doubt Rogers and Bell will follow suit, and I'm sure they're making deals as we speak with Sirius - but Telus is first to market.

It doesn't come cheap though, as you have to get handsets that support streaming media - either an LG or Samsung - both costing $349.99, or $99.99 with a 3 year plan. So, add $15 a month, and you're looking at a not-so-small outlay to have the luxury of cutting out commercials.

I really don't know how successful this offering will be, but it's part of the early growth of multimedia mobility, where the last thing you use your phone for is to make a call. For all the money people spend on their wireless plans, I just have to wonder how much time they'll really want to devote using their phone to listen to the radio. By now, just about everyone has an iPod, but I guess the appeal will lie in all those specialty channels.

I also wanted to mention that Telus is working with mspot, who optimizes multimedia content for streaming over wireless networks. They also do Sprint's service with Sirius. I'm noting this because the day this news came out, I was visiting the offices of QuickPlay Media here in Toronto, who are very much in this space. I've been commenting about them recently, and they're doing very good work. Their focus is a bit different, mainly on streaming shorter content as opposed to continuous feeds like radio or movies. In fact, they are doing video for Telus's Spark service.

I wanted to mention this, as this space is rapidly evolving, and there are different offerings for different markets. While mspot is doing music streaming, QuickPlay is focusing on the spoken word. So, instead of working with Telus for radio, they've partnered with RIM to offer short form audio streaming that is relevant to the typical Blackberry subscriber - news, financial reports, sports, etc. It's pretty neat - saw it for myself yesterday. Go Canada!

Keeping the Canadian thread going, I just wanted to cite Mark Goldberg's post on the Telus/XM news. He adds some good insight about the regulatory aspects of delivering IP content over wireless networks.

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