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Fans put satellite radio on cell phones, draw fire

Savvy Sirius and XM fans have figured out how to stream music to their phones

By Kenneth Li
March 24, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Reuters - Fans of U.S. satellite radio have been waiting eagerly for nearly a year to get XM or Sirius broadcasts to their cell phones.

But as the two satellite radio providers carefully ponder mobile strategies and chew over business plans, a small group of technically savvy devotees are taking matters into their own hands.

Grass-roots software and Web developers have found ways to tap into XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. and Sirius Satellite Radio Inc.'s Web sites to stream music channels on to Windows-powered smart phones and other devices.

Most have given their work away for free to other fans since late last year -- running into conflict with the wireless business strategies of the satellite radio providers.

"I'm not always near a PC, but I already have a cell phone," said David Bressler, who wrote a piece of software to listen to Sirius in his office, which blocks satellite radio signals.

"I like Sirius; I promote Sirius to everyone I talk to," he said in a phone interview, adding that it took him about an hour last December to write the software, SiriusWM5.

XM, the top U.S. satellite radio service provider with about 6 million subscribers, and Sirius, which serves about 4 million, have both said that going mobile is an important part of their business expansion.

But so far, only a few of Sirius' channels are available on one wireless provider's network, Sprint Nextel.

Meanwhile, XM has threatened to take legal action. In early February, a law firm representing the company sent a cease-and-desist letter to a developer, citing infringement of its trademark.

A spokesman for Sirius said its lawyers are also tackling the issue. "Our lawyers are diligently pursuing this," a Sirius spokesman said.

"We've indicated time and again, we expect our service and technology to be widely available in portable products, and we continue to explore opportunities to do that," said XM spokesman Chance Patterson. "These incidents don't have any impact on those plans.

To be sure, the addressable market is tiny. Users have to own relatively new Microsoft Windows Mobile-powered smart phones or PocketPC handheld devices and troll online message boards to locate the software or Web site links.

As a service to paying subscribers, XM and Sirius offer only a limited selection of their music channels on the Web. Sirius' hugely popular shows by ribald radio host Howard Stern, for example, are not available on its Web site.

Nonetheless, marginal competitive distractions have a way of haunting technology companies. Consider how the dorm room and garage passions of Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates and Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs, dropouts from Harvard University and Reed College, respectively, took on IBM and now own the PC market.

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