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Young hearts roam free on UK cellco network

But what happens when you turn 25?

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Blyk, a new mobile phone service for teenagers and young adults, went live in the UK yesterday. Customers aged between 16 and 24 get free mobile phone calls and texts, in exchange for receiving up to six adverts a day on their mobiles.

The mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) is carried on Orange's network, and potential customers will need to already have an MMS-capable handset.

In typical Social 2.0 style you can't sign up to Blyk unless you receive an invitation from an existing customer. You then get 43 voice minutes and 217 text messages a month; in exchange for looking at six ads a day. Until you turn 25, of course. At which point a red LED on the SIM flashes and your account is terminated by some friendly Sandmen.

Additional voice minutes cost 15p each, and extra texts are 10p a pop, but the Blyk business model is intended to be self-sustaining without customers incurring any costs.

The ads, which will pay for the network access, come as MMS or SMS messages, or are "tagged" to the bottom of personal messages.

Free communications for advertising has been tried out before, notably with PCs and internet access. But to date all attempts have failed, not least because the basic premise is flawed - those who are most attracted to free offers are those are least interesting to advertisers. Why advertise a Playstation 3 to someone who's unprepared to pay for their own phone calls?

Blyk reckons its focus on youth and brand advertising gets round this, and it has netted a herring shoal of advertisers who agree: Sony Ericsson, Coca Cola, SonyBMG, Ford, Adidas and Mastercard are among the 45 companies signed up to deliver pushed adverts to cheapskates. ®

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