RealNetworks will announce a deal with a large European mobile operator next week that will see its software used to provide audio and video services in 28 European countries over wireless networks that support data delivery.
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Promising the largest roll-out to date of multimedia services over Europe's 2.5G and emerging 3G networks, RealNetworks' client and back-end server software will provide the technology behind the mobile offerings.
RealNetworks did not name the operator, although industry analysts suggested Vodafone, as it is the only European operator with sufficient reach to cover more than two dozen countries.
Neil Mawston, a senior analyst with Strategy Analytics's global wireless practice, also pegged Vodafone as the likely partner based in its broad coverage.
The service, which is expected to let users play audio and video clips streamed or downloaded to their mobile phones, is scheduled to be rolled out by the end of the year.
RealNetworks makes the RealOne Mobile Player for playing content on handheld devices, as well as the Helix content delivery system used by mobile operators and other service providers. It competes in the market primarily with software from Microsoft.
Both suppliers have found success with their media software in the maturing PC market and hoped to move into the more vibrant wireless arena as a way to secure future growth.
RealNetworks have estimated that about 400 million handheld devices would ship worldwide this year compared to about 100 million PCs.
Europe's 2.5G networks, based on the GPRS standard, offer effective data transfer rates of up to 28kbps, barely sufficient to stream video.
The 3G networks based on the UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) standard offer significantly faster throughput of up to 380kbps. Ken Rehben, principal analyst for wireless infrastructure at Current Analysis, predicted it will be three years before UMTS use is widespread.
He added the, in the meantime, the EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) standard, which will be deployed by some operators over existing GPRS networks, will support throughput rates of about 100kbps.
"What's great about the RealNetworks technology is that you can actually get the live feed from a television station or a radio station and it's optimised for the... limitations of the mobile phone," he said.
RealNetworks also announced that its RealOne Mobile Player included with Nokia's Series 60 mobile phone software now supports playback of content streamed in the 3GPP (3G Partnership Project) media format.
RealOne Mobile Player also supports playback and streaming of its own RealAudio and RealVideo formats
James Niccolai writes for IDG News Service