Mobile network operator O2 UK will begin trials of a wireless video service with 350 of its mobile phone customers at the end of this month, ahead of a possible commercial launch later this year.
The trials are the latest move by network providers to make use of emerging technologies such as GPRS (general packet radio service), along with the recent spread of multimedia-capable handsets, to roll out money-making features. Previous attempts to entice consumers into using data services such as WAP and early GPRS were less than successful, but more recent features such as picture messaging are proving more popular with users.
Those taking part in the trial, which begins at the end of this month, will be able to download or stream video without charge to their Nokia 7650, Nokia 3650 or xda handsets.
Potentially more attractive to consumers, however, will be the ability to send video clips recorded on either of the Nokia handsets to other video-enabled mobile phones or to email addresses. Both Nokia handsets have built-in cameras and can record up to 10 seconds of video.
The video-messaging, streaming and downloading services all use O2's GPRS network, but O2 is paving the way for similar services that will ultimately run on 3G with much faster transfer rates. Hutchison's 3 has already launched a 3G network in the UK, and operators have been running 3G services in Japan for several months.
The success of such multimedia offerings is crucial to wireless providers, who paid billions for 3G licences and must find a way to recoup the costs.
O2 will offer video clips from BSkyB as well as from Arsenal football club and the England rugby team, which are both sponsored by O2.
"We want to develop a range of communications and entertainment services that our customers really want and trials like this give us the opportunity to listen to our customers and get crucial feedback," said Dave McGlade, O2 UK's chief executive, in a statement. The company recently announced trials of a music download service that will begin next month in the UK and Germany. O2 parent mmO2, formerly known as BT Wireless, said earlier this week that it would sell its Dutch operation, O2 Netherlands, for £17m. The decision will cost mm02 a £1.4bn charge on top of the 2bn euros (about £1.4bn) that it has invested in the subsidiary over the past three years.
Silicon.com's Will Sturgeon contributed to this report.