BARCELONA, Spain – Omnifone, a British mobile music company, will unveil a new music service Monday aimed at cell phone users who crave music while on the go, in the first of what is expected to be many challenges against Apple Inc.’s upcoming iPhone and its ubiquitous iTunes music service.
The London-based company, founded in 2003, said its new MusicStation will be an “all you can eat” service that will let users — in Europe first, but with plans to expand elsewhere — download new songs from dozens of major music labels for a weekly cost of 1.99 pounds, or about US$3.88, per week.
“The launch of MusicStation heralds the next generation mobile music experience for the hundreds of millions of mobile phone subscribers worldwide who want a simple, easy-to-use digital music experience,” Omnifone CEO Rob Lewis said.
“MusicStation will give users of any music-capable mobile phone the ability to legally access, download and enjoy an unlimited amount of music, from a global music catalog supported by the music industry, all for a small weekly fee, wherever they are.”
Set to debut in Europe and Asia this year, Omnifone said it signed partnerships with 23 mobile network operators with a customer base of 690 million subscribers in 40 countries.
The first major operators include Norway’s Telenor ASA and South Africa’s Vodacom, which is a partner with Britain’s Vodafone Group PLC.
“As one of the first Omnifone partners to launch the MusicStation all you can eat service, Telenor has reinforced its commitment to deliver cutting edge innovative services to its mobile subscribers across Sweden,” said Anders Jensen, Telenor’s chief marketing officer.
Another four networks will launch in western Europe and in Asia and the Pacific between April and June, Omnifone said. The company said its service would be available in Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
Lewis said the aim is to get the service to customers before the planned November introduction of Apple Inc.’s iPhone.
“We will ensure the vast majority of Europeans have the freedom to choose MusicStation by the time iPhone arrives in Europe. We will give consumers the choice they deserve,” he said.
The service works by letting users search, download and play music on their cell phones and sync it with their personal computer or Macintosh to create playlists that can be shared with other MusicStation users.
Unlike the iPhone, Lewis said the service downloads music over the air across a data network, meaning users can have instant access to new music despite their location.
He said the service was designed for 2.5- and third-generation networks, which are prevalent across Europe and Asia and expanding in North America.
“By leveraging the hundreds of millions of handsets sold every year by operators to deliver MusicStation into the global market, we believe we can give Apple a run for its money in digital music provision.” Lewis said, likening its use to that of an iPod and iTunes “except that with MusicStation users don’t need a credit card, computer or broadband connection.”
Pricing will be 1.99 pounds a week in Britain for unlimited downloads with the cost in Europe set at euro2.99 (US$3.89) a week. A premium service will offer unlimited music downloads to a subscriber’s mobile and PC for 2.99 pounds (US$5.83) a week and euro3.99 (US$5.19) a week in Europe.
The tracks will super industry digital rights management forms and be delivered in enhanced advanced audio coding format, or eAAC+.
Songs will come from both major and independent labels, including Universal Music Group, as well as local artists in most areas.
“(It is) one of the most consumer friendly and secure platforms we have seen and the worldwide potential of the MusicStation platform and its ability to make music instantly accessible to consumers via their mobile phone is enormous,” said Rob Wells, senior vice president of digital services at Universal Music.
Songs downloaded through MusicStation, along with users’ playlists are stored centrally meaning that if a mobile phone is lost or stolen, the content is not and can be downloaded to a new phone, Lewis said.
“The service provides personalized news, details of new releases, ticket sales and concert listings, all of which you can read while you’re listening to the songs,” he said. “They also get suggestions on their playing behavior such as artists tracks and playlists that are likely to be relevant to them.”