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AT&T launches TV service on new phones, rivaling Verizon

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NEW YORK — AT&T Inc. is launching its new video service for cell phones Sunday on two phones, and will charge $15 per month for 10 channels.

AT&T Mobile TV is almost identical to Verizon Wireless' V Cast Mobile TV, and is operated by the same company, Qualcomm Inc. AT&T will have two exclusive channels on the service, it said Thursday.

AT&T already has a mobile video service called CV, which is based on different technology. It works like Internet video, providing short clips on demand.

Qualcomm's MediaFLO service is more like regular TV broadcasts, constantly streaming shows on airwaves that run alongside regular cell-phone spectrum. Judging by V Cast Mobile TV, which is available on four phones, the quality is much higher than on-demand cell-phone clips.

The service will be available in 58 markets, including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

The only AT&T handsets that will initially work with the service are the ones that are going on sale Sunday: the LG Vu, a touch screen phone for $299.99, and the Samsung Access, a more traditional phone for $199.99. The prices apply with two-year contracts and are after $100 mail-in rebates. Other TV-capable phones will be available later.

The eight channels shared with Verizon Wireless are CBS Mobile, Comedy Central, ESPN Mobile TV, Fox Mobile, MTV, NBC 2Go, NBC News 2Go and Nickelodeon. The two channels that will be exclusive to AT&T are PIX, which screens movies from Sony Pictures, and CNN Mobile Live.

AT&T was initially planning to launch MediaFLO phones last year. Asked about the delay, spokesman Fletcher Cook said the company "wanted to be sure that we delivered an unmatched, high-quality offering to as many of our customers as possible."

Verizon Wireless has been quiet about how many people subscribe to V Cast Mobile TV, which costs the same as AT&T's service. Some analysts are skeptical that consumers are eager to pay $15 per month to watch TV on small screens.

But Qualcomm is confident in MediaFLO's prospects, putting down $554.6 million in a government spectrum auction in March for the right to use old UHF channel 56 in the Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco regions. That would allow it to broadcast several more MediaFLO channels in those areas.

Meanwhile, TV stations are planning to introduce their own broadcasts for mobile phones and other gadgets. The first such broadcasts, and the gadgets that will be able to tune to them, could be available next year. Unlike MediaFLO, these broadcasts may not require a subscription.