Todd Tappin, who helped guide Pasadena's Overture Services through an initial public offering and its sale to Yahoo Inc., thinks he has discovered the next new thing.
Just don't call it a phone.
"I'd like to move away from calling it a cell phone," said Tappin, chief financial officer of the Los Angeles-based joint venture SK-Earthlink LLC.
Tappin, 43, has teamed up with 33-year-old Earthlink founder Sky Dayton, who left his job as chief executive of another local start-up, Boingo Wireless, to run the well-funded joint venture between Earthlink and South Korea's SK Telecom Co.
SK-Earthlink wants to bring music, video, data, Wi-Fi and phone service to a single handset. No need to carry some combination of PalmPilot, iPod, phone or BlackBerry. "In Asia, people don't carry multiple devices," Tappin said. "They carry their music service, their phone and their e-mail in one device."
The company, capitalized with $220 million each from its sponsors, would use the spectrum and towers of existing wireless carriers, but create its own technology platform for delivering services and billing. It is testing a next-generation handheld device being manufactured in Asia.
Several executives have relocated to L.A. from South Korea, most notably Dr. Wonhee Sull, former chief technology officer for SK Telecom's wireless business. Sull is the chief operating officer for the joint venture. Other executives have come from Earthlink, Motorola Inc. and Cox Communications Inc.
Tappin said SK-Earthlink will target Earthlink's subscriber base of 5 million customers, rather than trying to go for mass-appeal.
L.A.-based Napster Inc. is also going after the wireless market.
The online music vendor formed a partnership with Swedish telecom group Ericsson Sverige AB to offer digital music downloads to wireless customers.
Ericsson builds wireless networks for customers that include Cingular Wireless LLC and AT & T; Wireless Inc.
Under terms of the deal, wireless carriers would earn revenue when their customers download songs or subscribe to Napster through their service plan. The revenue-sharing arrangement was not disclosed.
(Cingular is considering offering an "iTunes phone," developed by Apple Computer Inc. and Motorola Inc., slated for shipment in July.)
When users download a song to their phone, Napster will deliver a link to a second copy of the song to their e-mail inbox. "If everyone has to repurchase their music collection just for their handset, that's not going to get much traction," said Brad Duea, president of Napster.
*Staff reporter Hilary Potkewitz can be reached by phone at (323) 549-5225, ext. 226, or by e-mail at email@example.com .
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