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Disney To Become Virtual Cellular Operator

Entertainment company will launch a Disney-branded mobile network next year using Sprint's cellular infrastructure.
The Walt Disney Internet Group (WDIG) said Wednesday that it will launch a U.S. nationwide cellular phone network next year that will offer content aimed at families.

Disney said it will use the Sprint network for its cellular service, making it what is known in the industry as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). MVNOs establish cellular companies using other vendors' infrastructures and typically target their efforts at specific market niches.

"This enhanced mobile service offering will ensure Disney's place as a leader in the family mobile market, one of the fastest growing segments of the mobile industry," Steve Wadsworth, WDIG's president, said in a statement.. "We'll be in investment mode for the next several years, but expect that over the long run this initiative will generate solid financial returns for the company."

While Sprint will provide the cellular infrastructure, Disney will be responsible for all other aspects such as development of content, marketing, billing and customer support, the company said.

This is not Disney's first foray into the cellular world. It is providing Disney-branded content such as ring tones and graphics, in cooperation with Japan's NTT DoCoMo. In addition, ESPN, which is a business unit of Disney, is also launching an MVNO targeted at sports fans. ESPN also will use the Sprint network.