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Exclusive: MP3.com to offer mobile tunes

Web music flagship to go with mobile download tests

Music website MP3.com is planning to launch a music download service on mobile phones by the end of the year.

But an expert has warned that any service launched now would be "painfully slow".

The chief executive of MP3.com's UK operation has told PC Advisor that he wants to launch a service in the UK this year. Yoel Kenan told us: "We will be expanding our current services on mobile phones. Music downloads and mobile technology work very well together. This will definitely occur in 2002."

Asked whether this would be towards the end of the year, Mr Kenan said: "I don't like to talk about timescales, but maybe before. I hope so, anyway."

Mr Kenan also said that MP3.com would be launching the service on existing mobile networks and would not be waiting for the launch of 3G services. However, he would not give further details about how the service would work.

Mark Mulligan, an analyst for internet research company Jupiter said that any service MP3.com could offer on existing services would be "painfully slow".

"In theory you can download any music track using WAP. I don't see that wireless networks are suited to streaming, but UMTS [3G networks] will be fine for downloads," said Mulligan.

"But I can't see high-quality content being offered — it's likely that this will all be low bit-rate," he added.

Customers could listen to tracks with software such as RealNetworks' Mobile RealPlayer or Nokia Music Player on Nokia phones.

Mulligan added that the service would most likely be an exercise to test the waters for mobile downloads amongst the public.

"This sounds like a statement of intent, in order to figure out what works. It's likely they want to monitor the sort of behaviour early adopters show," he said.

It's also likely that MP3.com is developing the service in consultation with major mobile phone operators.

Vodaphone recently introduced its M-Pay payment system that allows people to buy low-cost items online and charge them to their mobile phone bill. MP3.com's mobile download service could use a system such as Vodaphone's to charge downloads to its customers.

However, Mulligan points out that the content is likely to be from unsigned artists and independent labels.

"The reason major labels are reluctant to take mobile phone downloads seriously is because it does not guarantee secure distribution of their content. It's unlikely that there will be digital rights management [protection to stop people copying music illegally] before 16 to 18 months [time]," he said.


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