By WALTER S. MOSSBERG
When you think of U.S. wireless phone carriers, the name ESPN hardly
leaps to mind alongside Verizon, Cingular, Sprint and T-Mobile. But
this month, ESPN joined their ranks, sort of. It leapt into the
cellphone business not merely with vastly increased sports content
available from phones and a new phone customized for sports fans, but
also with a whole new cellphone company.
The sports network isn't actually building cell towers or licensing
frequencies from the government, as traditional carriers do. Instead,
it is launching a "virtual" cellphone carrier called Mobile ESPN.
It's leasing high-speed network capacity from Sprint and reselling
that capacity as if it were a real carrier, complete with its own
sports-oriented services, phones, pricing plans, billing and customer
I've been testing the new ESPN Mobile service and its first phone,
called the Sanyo MVP. In general, I liked the elaborate package of
sports news and information that lies at the heart of the new venture,
which can only be accessed via ESPN phones and the ESPN service -- not
through traditional carriers, even Sprint.
But I encountered some glitches and problems, including missing
features. And to my amazement, I discovered the phone's Web browser
goes only to sites approved by ESPN. I can't imagine anyone other than
the most hard-core sports addict going through the hassle of switching
phones and carriers to sign up with ESPN, especially since the new
company's prices seem to be on the high side.