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O2 in the UK has launched its first mobile video service, which is free until 31 January 2004 and is to be available in Ireland early in the new year.

The service operates on a GPRS (2.5G) network and is supported on the Nokia 3650 and the Sony Ericsson P800. The company said that next month availability will expand to the new Xda II, Nokia 6600, Siemens SX1, Motorola V600 and Sony Ericsson P900.

O2 customers can access the video service through the O2 Active menu, from which users choose the service they want, such as Internet browsing, multimedia messaging (MMS), games and information.

While a mixture of video content is being provided, O2 UK is really pushing its Rugby World Cup 2003 service, whereby customers can download or stream clips of the matches and interviews. It includes half-time and full match highlights from Australia, interviews with coaches and players and up to 100 RWC 2003 moments, such as 'top tries.'

The clips vary in length from 10 seconds for a try and 45 seconds for an interview. The length also depends on the way in which the customer chooses to view the clip, either to stream it (watch it once) or to download it and store it for future viewing. Streaming takes about 10 seconds, while downloading can take up to a minute and a half.

Other content includes footage from ITN, CNBC Europe, Classic Comedy, Bake, Fashion TV, GMTV, Extreme Sports Channel and Extreme International. Interestingly, during service trials, which started lasted April, O2 UK found that breaking news was the most popular part of the video service, followed by sports and music.

According to the company, the trial service as a whole met or exceeded the expectations of 78 per cent of the trial group. Customers said they used the service on an average 3.5 times a week, and 94 per cent of the 350-person sample had demonstrated it to friends and family, according to O2 figures.

O2 is also offering multi-media messaging in the UK, with an introductory offer of £0.16 per message.

O2 Ireland is starting a month-long period of customer trials in the next few weeks and expects the video service to be available here early in the new year. "It will operate on the 2.5G network, with a view to making it available on 3G when suitable handsets are available in volume in the current market," said Aoifah Jones, media relations executive with O2 Ireland.

O2 Ireland could not confirm that there would be a free period for the service, such as that announced in the UK Monday, or provide any indication as to what the cost of the service might be. The service in Ireland will include a mixture of content available in the UK and content exclusive to O2 Ireland. The Irish content to be included is subject to the conclusion of commercial negotiations, Jones said. ®

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