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Free WiFi for Mylo Users

Attempting to boost sales of its new "personal communicator," the mylo, Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) says all mylo owners will get a year free subscription to any of the 7000 or so WiFi zones on T-Mobile US Inc. 's "HotSpot" network.

Introduced last month, the mylo is a WiFi-only device that allows users to play music, send and receive instant messages and emails, browse the Internet, and talk over VOIP services such as Google Talk, eBay’s Skype, and Yahoo Messenger. Designed for teens and young adults, who tend to be heavy IM users, it retails for around $350.

Sony Electronics president Stan Glasgow announced the partnership in his keynote speech at DigitalLife, in New York. The promotional deal with T-Mobile, which was the first carrier to build out an extensive network of for-fee WiFi zones, begins in mid-November, and users will receive one year of complementary HotSpot service from the day their device first logs on to a T-Mobile WiFi connection. The free service ends on Dec. 31, 2007.

The partnership is an attempt by both companies to boost adoption of their products: Sony has not released sales figures for the mylo, but it's clear that the device has not captured youthful imaginations in the way the beleaguered consumer-electronics company hopes. T-Mobile, meanwhile, is facing an onslaught of free services -- including municipal networks that could blanket entire cities with free WiFi access -- that threaten to slash WiFi revenues, if not render the HotSpot network obsolete.

"T-Mobile's WiFi network is an underutilized asset," comments Avi Greengart, principal analyst for mobile devices at Current Analysis, noting that the carrier is launching mobile devices with dual EDGE/WiFi service plans, under which T-Mobile customers who buy the new Dash dual-mode phone can get unlimited usage of both networks for $30 per month.

T-Mobile USA said last week it will proceed with plans to roll out a high-speed, 3G UMTS network at the end of this year, with nationwide deployment expected to be completed by 2009. (See T-Mobile Confirms 3G Plans.)

One noteworthy aspect of this deal is T-Mobile cellular voice customers will now be able to use Skype and other VOIP services over WiFi, using T-Mobile's own network -- for free.

"It's one thing for a carrier to push Voice-over-WiFi in the home -- evening and weekend minutes are free anyway, and it relieves the carrier of having to provide perfect coverage inside the house throughout suburbia," observes Greengart. "It's quite another thing to encourage people to use WiFi for voice at hotspots outside the home, when they could be using cellular connectivity -- and paying for it -- instead."

Available over the Web, at "Sony Style" retail stores, and at authorized dealers nationwide, the mylo will not be sold at T-Mobile stores. The cost for a year-long subscription to the T-Mobile HotSpot network is $360 -- which means that T-Mobile subscribers can now essentially get a year subscription with a handheld telecommunication device thrown in for free.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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