Says it will be much more comprehensive than rival offerings
Complementary busses ferrying hacks from the local tube station, and a free party tonight, betrayed T-Mobile’s concern that it made a big enough splash with the launch of its Ear Phones mobile music service.
Ear Phones is the umbrella name T-Mobile has given to all its music related services, from ringtones and ringback tones to music track downloads. The launch today was of the brand but more importantly of T-Mobile’s Jukebox service, a new music download service that allows users to listen to tracks of their choice on their mobile phone.
At the moment, the service is limited to five handsets in the market, and 500 tracks. By the end of the year there could be as many as 15 enabled handsets and half a million tracks available, Nikesh Arora, chief marketing officer of T-Mobile, told the bussed-in hacks.
The service is built around DRM technology founded on the Open Mobile Alliance 1.0 specification. This means any user that wants to access the handset will have to have a handset with the correct software load. At the moment this means the Nokia 7600 and 6230, the Motorola E398 and the SonyEricsson P900 and K700. (The P900 actually comes in two versions, one with the OMA DRM software in it and one without, so P900 users will have to check which version they have). T-Mobile is leaning on the manufacturers to produce more versions with the OMA DRM by Christmas.
How does it work?
Content, specially mixed and formatted, will sit on servers at T-Mobile’s download centre, which is based in Manchester. A user will click on the "Jukebox" button on his mobile, and then enter the site, browsing tracks either by latest release, artist name or song name.
Once a request for a download is made T-Mobile’s platform will discover what kind of device is making the request, which media player (Real, is embedded in the device and if the device supports OMA DRM. The MP3 file is then transcoded into the relevant codec — whether ASC, AAC+ or MP3 — and sent to the phone.
This means the user doesn’t need to download any application onto the phone, something which T-Mobile thinks is vital if the service is to hit the mass market.
At the beginning of the service, only edited formats of full tracks will be available. T-Mobile is calling these Mobile Mixes – 90-120 versions of the full track. By Christmas the service will support full track download. Listeners will be allowed to listen to a track twice before deciding if they want to buy. Tracks will cost £1.50 in the UK and €1.50 in T-Mobile’s other European markets (Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, The Netherlands.)
T-Mobile is insistent that the delivery of these edited versions is to meet the behaviour patterns of people listening to and sharing music when on the move. It also serves to keep down download times which they say will be 30 seconds in 3G and two minutes over GPRS for its Mobile Mix format. Full tracks will take twice as long.
Another reason for the shorter format could be to protect the full version of the song at launch. T-Mobile is envisaging giving listeners the chance to download a song two weeks before the CD single release, meaning that potentially a customer could download the Mobile Mix version before perhaps buying the full track version on its main release.
Music Industry Support
T-Mobile has launched the service with content from four of the big five music publishers. Boyd Muir from Universal Music International and Jim McDermott from Sony were both insistent it was the operator’s willingness to listen to their concerns over DRM and marketing that has given them a lead. The music companies are bound to want to work with other operators, and in fact are already doing so, but T-Mobile has taken a lead, both men said.
Matthias Immel, Head of Consumer Propositions Media and Music at T-Mobile told Mobile Europe that T-Mobile is attractive to music companies because it has taken an open standards approach to addressing the whole market.
"It is not a client based service," he said, "like some of our competitors for example where a service only address Series 60 high end phones. You need a broad device portfolio and you will only get these figures if you have an open platform and not just three to four high end phones."
"Nokia, SonyEricsson, and Siemens have all bought into the OMA DRM, and so we can rely on the functionality of the device itself, and not on the client solution."
In a swipe at competitors Immel pointed out that meant the service was a one-device solution (ie no Music Player like O2’s required) and also required no application download (ie everyone else).
Of course, what is open about this from an industry point of view is the OMA DRM side of the equation. The transcoding platform is all T-Mobile’s own work, and this is where other operators will need to decide their strategy. Immel’s guess is that the music labels will be reasonably flexible, given their urgent need to replace falling CD sales revenues, but the question has to be asked how many different partners a music company will want to work with, how many different ways of doing things they will be willing to support.
There are beginning to be a number of companies addressing the space between the operator and the music companies, perhaps editing content to appropriate formats and also handling the DRM side. One example is Musiwave (link below).
T-Mobile’s launch will also inevitably attract comparison with fixed on-line services, such as i-tunes and other portable device solutions such as the i-pod. But T-Mobile CMO Nikesh Arora pointed out that against one billion mobile phones in the market, there are only 250 million walkmans and just six million i-pods. Music download services also tie users to a PC and a second device. You mobile is already in your pocket, and it will give you access to music at any time, Arora claimed.
Arora was at pains to point out that with five phones and 500 tracks this is only the start of things for music download services. But T-Mobile thinks with its OMA DRM, support for a variety of players and formats and buy-in from 80% of the music industry majors it has a fair chance of cracking the mass market.