(often stylized as HΞLIO
) was a Mobile virtual network operator (MVNO)
wireless carrier launched on May 2
. It was founded by EarthLink
founder Sky Dayton
. It was a joint venture between SK Telecom
(a South Korean CDMA
mobile telecom) and EarthLink
. Helio had 170,000 subscribers at the time of its acquisition by Virgin Mobile USA.
On January 26, 2005, EarthLink and SK Telecom announced to the media that they had entered into agreement to launch a new US mobile provider. This provider would operate as a mobile virtual network operator and would lease network capacity from Sprint. The premise of this new company would be to grow SK Telecom's customer base from its already saturated home market of Korea to the US wireless market. SK Telecom has been under increasing pressure over the last few years due to its flat growth in its existing markets. Helio, as it was to be called, attempted to market itself to the younger demographic, trying to tout itself using the latest in cutting-edge handset technology. They planned to avoid taking on the major US wireless carriers directly, and instead they intend to carve out a niche for themselves with technology-savvy consumers. EarthLink and SK Telecom agreed to provide an initial round of financing totaling $440 million US dollars, with each of the two owning 50% of the new company.
In addition to leasing capacity from Sprint Nextel, in the event that Sprint Nextel isn't available, Helio devices will go into "roaming" mode to operate on Alltel, Verizon Wireless and US Cellular, however, data services are not available while roaming. Roaming is indicated by an R to the left of the signal strength indicator.
Since Helio leases network capacity primarily from Sprint Nextel, Helio devices operate using the CDMA 1xEVDO
standard. This is also the standard used by SK Telecom
in the South Korean market. As such, almost all of Helio's handsets are rebranded versions of Samsung phones long since on the South Korean market. At launch, Helio offered two models called the Kickflip
. These were replaced by the Drift
slider, which was added to the line-up in November 2006, and the Heat slider, which was added in March 2007. In May 2007, Helio introduced the Ocean, its flagship dual-slider. In August 2007, Helio launched Fin, an ultra-thin folder with a magnesium body. In December 2007, the Mysto slider saw a limited release to the Korean American market, which was followed up by a general market launch in January 2008.
The Ocean is a dual-slider cell phone (manufactured by Pantech) , combining a traditional numeric keypad and a separate full QWERTY keyboard in a single handset. Designed primarily as a social networking tool , the Ocean merges instant messages, text messages, picture messages and email services from all of the major portals in one phone but none are integrated with each other. The Ocean also delivers MySpace Mobile on Helio with a new user interface, music downloads, video-on-demand, a 2 megapixel camera, an HTML browser, GPS-enabled Google Maps, Garmin Navigation, Buddy Beacon and supports Mail for Microsoft Exchange. The Helio Ocean comes with 200MB of internal memory and a microSD memory card slot (expandable up to 2GB). The Ocean became publicly available on May 11
, produced by VK Mobile
, was one of Helio's two launch devices and was marketed heavily to MySpace users. The Kickflip is a swiveling cell phone, white in color and with a flat (screen-only) front that drew comparisons to the styling of the MacBook
. Some of the features included 2 Megapixel camera, 90 minutes of video recording, side buttons, QVGA screen, and 8 day stand by/3 hour talk time battery life. Even though the Kickflip was possibly Helio's most popular phone at the time, the model was discontinued, as Helio could not fulfill new orders due to the bankruptcy filing of VK Mobile and constant problems with bugs and the phones crashing.
The Helio Hero
was also one of Helio's two launch devices. The Hero was marketed as the phone for music and video game aficionados and was extremely bulky compared to other phones on the market at the time. It was a slider, available only in black. The Hero included 2 Megapixel camera with opening and closing lens cover, QVGA screen, multimedia co-processor chip for enhanced video and sound, duplex stereo speakers, and 8 day standby/3 hours talk time battery life. The Hero was discontinued in February 2007.
The Hybrid was a PC card
which provided wireless internet access via Helio's 3G technology and Wi-Fi hot spots. The Hybrid is a rebranded Sierra AirCard
. Helio quietly discontinued sales and service for the Hybrid soon after its launch.
When Helio first opened its doors for business in May 2006, they opted for a soft launch. Most of the promotion was done by word of mouth and promotional events across the country.
On July 13, 2006, Helio began running TV commercials with the slogan, "Don't Call Us a Phone Company; Don't Call it a Phone." Alongside the television commercials, Helio also began advertising on billboards and in the print media, specifically in magazines that serve the 18-32 demographic, and very heavily on MySpace. Helio opened five corporate flagship stores, with locations in Cherry Creek-Colorado, New York City-New York, and in Palo Alto, San Diego and Santa Monica-California.
At the end of December 2006, Helio announced it had 70,000 customers with an average monthly revenue per user (ARPU) of nearly $100. An estimated 25 percent of those revenues come from data services (Well above the industry average of about 11 percent). On September 21, 2007 EarthLink announced that SK Telecom would be increasing their investment in Helio by $270 million and adjusting ownership positions in the company accordingly, effectively giving operational control to SK Telecom.
On February 16, 2006 and in conjunction with its initial handset lineup, Helio announced it had partnered with MySpace. Helio created a custom portal for users to interface with the social networking site. Cingular, AT&T, Sprint and others followed suit months later.
In May 2008, rumors arose that Helio parent SK Telecom was in talks with Virgin Mobile USA over a possible merger. SK Telecom denied these rumors , but Virgin divulged that the two, in fact, were having preliminary discussions. On June 27, 2008, Virgin Mobile announced that it would pay $39 million in stock for Helio after SK Telecom promised to invest $25 million in cash immediately in Virgin.
On September 9,2008 Virgin Mobile USA announced "Helio by Virgin Mobile," tagged with the line "Plan To Have It All" the initiation of the merger, also a change of monthly plans and they announced their first intergrated phone the "Shuttle".
- PC Mag - Helio Introduces Sidekick Killer
- PC Mag - Hands-On With the Helio Ocean
- Earthlink Press Release