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Virgin on the Ridiculous

Light Reading
LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading
7/25/2002

Oh sure, we're at the most spectacular wireless happening that Manhattan has seen for many a moon – Wednesday night's Virgin Mobile USA LLC launch party – surrounded by boozed-up celebrities (more on them later – showbiz ed.) drinking these funny little drinks with glowing red ice cubes in them.

But, gentle reader, we never forget that we're there for you, trying to get the inside dope on the wireless stories that matter. So dodging Donald Trump, we set off in search of the truth, with nothing but a few sips of Vodka to tide your correspondent over.

For instance, something has been bugging us (and evidently some of our readers too) about Virgin's nationwide U.S. launch yesterday (see Branson Targets US Teens). Virgin is piggy-backing on the Sprint PCS (NYSE: PCS) network in the U.S. Now, as regular readers will know (see Sprint: No SMS for You!), Sprint does not offer true inter-carrier two-text messaging as part of its PCS service. Users can receive text messages but they have to open up a WAP browser to reply.

Yet Virgin Mobile said at its press conference that they will start to offer true SMS messaging within the next couple of weeks. This is not that surprising, SMS has been one of the keys to Virgin's success in the U.K. (see SMS Hits 1B Mark in US). But how did they do it? Apparently, Virgin has actually got its hands dirty and put its own kit in the Sprint network to handle short message services, bypassing the clunky Sprint system.

And another thing that was also puzzling us was why the so-called mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) idea has taken so long to reach U.S. shores. Carriers in markets like Europe and Hong Kong have lots of long term bandwidth sharing agreements in place (see Europeans Stretch 'Virtual' Boundaries). Why not the U.S.?

Apparently, it wasn't for want of trying on Virgin's part. The Brit company has been talking with major U.S carriers for three years in an attempt to get Virgin Mobile USA off the ground. A Sprint PCS spokesperson would not comment on how long Sprint itself discussed the venture before taking the plunge when Unstrung called him on Thursday.

So, that's that cleared up. Although we'd still like to know what Sprint's cut will be of any revenue derived from the venture. If any kind soul at Sprint PCS feels like enlightening us…

Whassat you say? Oh yeah, enough of the wireless, get to the celebrities. Well, holding court along with Virgin's founder Sir Richard 'Dicky' Branson was Welsh superstar [Ed note: surely some kind of oxymoron?] Tom Jones and Gene Simmons from KISS.

To be honest, it took us a little while to figure out who Gene was ("Hi, I'm Gene") without the make-up and the platform boots on.

And you want to know the really shocking truth? Virtually none of these so-called celebrities even knew what MVNO meant anyway.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
http://www.unstrung.com

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