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UK Cable Going Mobile, Like a Virgin

NTL, the UK's largest cable operator, completed its acquisition of Virgin Mobile yesterday. The deal offers a quick way for NTL, a mobile virgin in its own right, to quickly penetrate (pardon the expression) the wireless market. The deal also paves the way for the cabler to eventually offer a four-play (ouch!) service bundle -- video, Internet, voice and mobile -- all under the hip Virgin brand name, perhaps by early 2007.

NTL's cable network passes 12 million homes, covering 50 percent of U.K. households, and the MSO counts more than 5 million residential customers. With more than 4 million customers, Virgin Mobile is the U.K.'s largest mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). Virgin Mobile service is sold at 6,000 retail outlets, a nice footprint for NTL to leverage.

Four of the top U.S. cable MSOs -- Comcast, Time Warner, Cox Communications and Advance/Newhouse Communications -- are working to enter the mobile business through an MVNO joint venture with Sprint Nextel. The team plans to introduce cable wireless service (a nice oxymoron) this year in Austin, Tex., Raleigh, N.C., and Portland, Ore., plus at least four other markets.

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