LONDON – A new music service that allows consumers to directly download an unlimited number of tracks to their cell phones for a small weekly fee from wherever they are will launch in Europe on Thursday.
British firm Omnifone said it had signed content deals with the four biggest music groups in the industry and had agreements with 30 mobile operators in a bid to steal the thunder of the much-hyped iPhone made by iPod maker Apple (AAPL).
The service, called MusicStation, will be suitable for 75 percent of mobile handsets already available in the market, and will launch first in Sweden on Thursday with Scandinavian operator Telenor.
It will then roll out across Europe, the Asia-Pacific and Africa in the coming days and weeks. Omnifone is targeting 100 million phones in a year and can offer over 1 million songs.
"It's hard to imagine a more compelling music experience on mobile than MusicStation," Rob Wells of Universal Music Group's digital division said. "It works on almost any phone, giving consumers the freedom to choose whatever device they want (and) it allows downloads wherever those consumers are."
Omnifone has also signed content deals three other major music groups: Sony/BMG, Warner Music Group (WMG ) and EMI Group.
Omnifone said the service would be available on all 2.5G and 3G music compatible cell phones, which currently accounts for approximately 80 percent of the handsets sold in Western Europe.
It will offer unlimited track downloads at 2.99 euros per week, or 1.99 pounds in Britain, which includes data traffic charges.
Omnifone Chief Executive Rob Lewis told Reuters that it would take between one and 15 seconds to download a track and that phones could store between 100 and a few thousand depending on the phone.
"We believe that by providing consumers with the ultimate music freedom of unlimited access to music, wherever a user is, on whatever phone they buy, MusicStation is delivering the most compelling consumer proposition in digital music today," Omnifone's Lewis said.
Consumers will initially be limited to listening to the tracks through their phones as Omnifone bans users from transferring music to computers, MP3 players or other digital gadgets, but the firm says it will launch a parallel PC version shortly.
Users can keep the tracks for as long as they keep their subscription which is added to their phone bills. Tracks will reappear if consumers renew their subscriptions, replace or upgrade a phone.
Apple will launch its iPhone in the United States on June 29 and has not yet given launch dates for Europe and Japan.
Music on cell phones has been around for several years, but most music on phones is currently ripped from CDs and files swapped on the Internet, not sold by operators over their wireless networks.
The iPhone has caused mobile companies concern because Apple aims to sell music for iPhone through its iTunes Web site bypassing mobile carriers.