ESPN coming to US cell phones

Up-to-the-minute sports scores should start showing up on U.S. cell-phone screens within the next month as information services from sports broadcaster ESPN go live on wireless mobile networks, according to UIEvolution, which makes the platform on which those services will be based.

The software vendor Monday announced that ESPN will use its cross-platform development environment to create software for delivering ESPN ring tones and the company's BottomLine score ticker to programmable mobile phones. The offerings later will include images from ESPN, UIEvolution said. The deal will let mobile operators easily deliver the ESPN software and services to a wide variety of handset models, said Chris Ruff, senior director of marketing and product management at UIEvolution.

Those applications are coming as part of the second generation of wireless data offerings, which is following on the heels of game software, according to Satoshi Nakajima, who is president, chief executive officer and co-founder of UIEvolution and formerly was a lead architect at Microsoft. Content providers including ESPN offered some services in the past over WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), but the limitations of that interface and the monochrome displays available then limited their appeal, he added.

UIEvolution's development environment lets developers write an application once and deploy it on many different types of programmable phones, Ruff said. It includes a set of runtime environments, about 30K bytes in size, that let the application work with a variety of operating systems and application delivery platforms. They include Pocket PC, PalmOS, Symbian, J2ME (Java 2, Mobile Edition) and Brew (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless).

That cross-platform capability makes it cost-effective for a content provider such as ESPN to deliver its content to a wide variety of phones and through many different operators, Ruff said.

Standalone games are shaping up as the first applications to catch on for programmable mobile phones, partly because they are easy to understand and fit the tastes of early adopters, Nakajima said. Client-server applications such as the ESPN content delivery software are starting to appear, but it's still early, he said.

"There's no particular year in which you'll suddenly see a boom ... 2003 is certainly a first inning in mobile data," Nakajima said. That's not to say it will take nine years for mobile data services to catch on, but potential subscribers still need a lot of education, he added.

UIEvolution's research in Japan and South Korea shows that personalization features, such as ring tones and wallpaper, are most popular with users. Other popular services include sports information, maps and directions, movie listings and TV schedules, Nakajima said.

ESPN already has deals with U.S. mobile operators to deliver the services, which should be available beginning within 30 days, Ruff said.

The monthly customer fee probably will be in the range of US$3 to $5.

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