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Sprint, Virgin Create Wireless Joint Venture

Sprint Friday sealed a deal with Virgin Group to create a joint venture offering pay-as-you-go wireless communications services and handsets to the U.S. market.

Operating under the Virgin Mobile USA brand, the joint venture will use Sprint PCS' nationwide digital PCS wireless network and will target the 15- to 30-year-old consumer market. The companies expect to launch services in select markets and complete a nationwide rollout during the first half of 2002.

"Virgin's strategic venture with Sprint enables Virgin Mobile USA to be the first Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) in the U.S.," said Sir Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group. "We are the fastest growing mobile phone business in the U.K., and we will leverage our strong brand recognition as well as our consumer-savvy marketing machine to satisfy the needs of a U.S. market that demands customization."

Virgin Mobile USA will also offer Virgin Xtras, a set of features that will provide access to additional services "tailored for the U.S. consumers' fast-paced, entertainment-focused, music-centric lifestyle," Virgin Mobile said. The company said it plans to distribute its products and services nationally through retailers that focus on the under-30 consumer market.

Under the terms of the agreement, Sprint PCS and Virgin will have an equal interest in and mutual governance roles for Virgin Mobile USA. Sprint PCS will make a $50 million contribution of services to the venture and Virgin will invest $50 million in cash. The board will consist of six members: Virgin Chairman Richard Branson, Virgin Group Strategy Director Gordon McCallum, Virgin USA Inc. Chief Executive Officer Frances Farrow, Sprint PCS President Charles Levine, Sprint PCS Chief Financial Officer William Gunter, and Sprint PCS Vice President of Business Development and Planning Bill Blessing.