“Virtual” wireless carrier Helio could be on its last legs. We hear that it’s finally closing its barren retail stores this week, confirming a few earlier reports. And even if a last-ditch sale to rival Virgin Mobile (VM) happens, we doubt Helio has much left to offer the mobile industry.
Why not? Financial problems aside — the company has burned through more than half a billion dollars from SK Telecom (SMK) and EarthLink (ELNK) — Helio has lost whatever relevance it once had. When the service launched two years ago, it offered young urbanites a cool, unique service: Slick, powerful phones from Korea, exclusive mobile access to News Corp.’s (NWS) MySpace, expensive all-in phone/3G Internet plans, lots of mobile content, etc.
Two years later, it’s still offering the same stuff — but so is rest of the industry. Now that MySpace offers free access via the mobile Web, Helio’s MySpace portal is no longer necessary. And every carrier now sells attractive, powerful, subsidized smartphones — ranging from RIM (RIMM) BlackBerries to Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone — which include good Web browsers, media players, apps, etc.
If Virgin Mobile ends up buying Helio’s remains, it might find a use for its few hundred thousand high-rollin’ subscribers, its (once) high-end phones, and some of the home-brewed software. But that’s about it.