Virgin Mobile USA said on Friday it will buy SK Telecom’s money-losing Helio cellular service for $39 million in stock.
South Korea’s SK Telecom will also invest an additional $25 million in Virgin Mobile, as will the Virgin Group, which jointly owns Virgin Mobile with Sprint Nextel. SK Telecom is South Korea’s top mobile operator with 50% market share in that country.
Virgin Mobile, which is partly owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Sprint Nextel Corp, serves more than 5 million customers. It has seen growth slowing amid the U.S. economic slowdown and increased competition from rivals.
Helio, which has about 170,000 subscribers, has also struggled. Both companies target young consumers, and rent space on Sprint’s network. Helio became the first U.S carrier to sign a deal with Opera, officially supporting Opera Mini on the Helio Ocean.
Virgin Mobile expects the deal to close in the third quarter.
SK Telecom is building out Wave 2 WiBro in Seoul and has sent HD video across the network in real time. Under optimal conditions it downloaded at 37 Mbps and uploaded at 10 Mbps.