Technology & Science

Amp'd Mobile aims to entertain youth

A new national cellphone carrier officially kicked off its service Monday with an entertainment-focused offering that it hopes will win fans among the coveted youth market.

A new national cellphone carrier officially kicked off its service Monday with an entertainment-focused offering that it hopes will win fans among the coveted youth market.

"We're a mobile entertainment company more than we are a mobile phone provider," Chris Houston, president of Amp'd Mobile Canada, told CBC News Online in his downtown Toronto office.

He spokehours before a launch event that featured Vancouver rock band Pride Tiger.

The wholly owned subsidiary of U.S.-based Amp'd Mobile Inc. — which Houston co-founded — aims to woo customers from incumbent competitors with the promise of exclusive music, video, games and other multimedia offerings that include live streaming broadcasts from its studio.

Withexclusive content distribution deals with partners such as Chum Ltd.'s MuchMusic and the Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts league, Amp'd has partnered with Telus Mobility to provide capacity on its high-speed EVDO (evolution data optimized) network, billing, customer service and logistics support such as distribution.

"That allows us to focus exclusively on marketing and content," Houston said.

But the new carrier may have its work cut out for it as competitors step up their fight for the desirable youth market.

Virgin Mobile Canada on March 14 said it plans to introduce its own expanded and exclusive multimedia offerings, dubbed Virgin Mobile Live. The service, expected to launch in the summer, would include content from the global Virgin organization's radio service and Virgin Festival music concert series, along with sports offerings from SportsNet and celebrity news from Star Daily.

"There's a lot of interest in the types of content we plan to offer … not the sort of rubbish others offer," Nathan Rosenberg, chief marketing officer for Virgin Mobile Canada told CBC News Online.

Undaunted by competition

Houston said he isn't worried about competition, pointing to the success of an earlier startup where he led product development — U.S.-based Boost Mobile LLC, owned by Sprint Nextel Corp.

Boost, which offers features similar to Amp'd, was responsible for about 70 per cent of new phone activations on the Sprint Nextel network in its first quarter, he said.

"They'll be happy with a much smaller market share than Rogers or Bell," Max Valiquette, president of Toronto-based youth market research firm Youthography Inc., told CBC News Online.

Valiquette addedthat the entertainment-focused approach to the market makes the battle "unwinnable" for Amp'd in light of competing offerings.

Houston admitted he doesn't expect results in Canada similar to Boost's performance, but anticipates a strong showing. He claimed early reports suggest Amp'd sales are already better than projected.

Amp'd began accepting customers in Canada on March 14, the same day that wireless number portability was introduced in the country. About 70 per cent of Canada's cellphone customers — in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec — were immediately able to switch cellphone carriers and keep their phone numbers.

The companysays it offers coverage through Telus's network to about 60 per cent of Canada's population. It is offering Motorola Inc.'sRAZR phones through Best Buy, Future Shop and Telus stores, as well as its own flagship store at its headquarters in downtown Toronto. Amp'd also plans to soon offer the Q, Motorola's answer to Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry and Palm Inc.'s Treo smartphones.

The company has a series of live events planned to promote its launch over the next few weeks, including a concert by hip-hop artist Kardinal Offishall at its in-house studio on Friday.