Mobile phone firm O2 is embarking on an ambitious project to see if mobile phones and music can make money.
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent in Hanover
The company is producing its own digital music player that can store and
play back recorded tracks as well as download new ones via a handset.
O2 has developed its own portable music player
Downloaded tracks are expected to cost around £1.50 and O2 is currently looking for keen music lovers to test the service in May.
If the trial proves a success, the commercial service could be launched before the end of 2003.
The music player being made by O2 looks like the current crop of MP3 players
and stores music on Compact Flash cards.
Before now many companies, such as Musicwave in France and T-Mobile in
Germany, have let people download short clips of popular tunes or ringtones
derived from the same songs.
is in the player it is yours, it's a permanent digital download
None have so far let people download and store entire tracks because the average
size of a music file recorded in the popular MP3 format is 3.5 megabytes, which is larger than the entire free memory available on all but the most up
to date phones.
Such files would take a long time to download to a handset even via the fast
GPRS technology many mobile networks now offer.
O2 has got around these problems by using a compression technology called
Microkosm from US company Chaoticom that lets a near-CD quality track
download in two minutes.
A 64 megabyte Compact Flash card will hold about
100 Microkosm compressed music files.
Leslie Golding, head of music at O2, told BBC News Online that an eight-week
trial would take place in May that will use 150 customers in the UK and 100 in Germany to test all aspects of the service.
Across Europe O2 has about 20 million customers.
Triallists will be able to listen to 30 second samples or stream and
download entire tracks.
Users will get access to top 20 singles as well as top 10 best selling rock, dance, hip-hop and chill out tunes, each track they download will cost about £1.50.
Payments for tracks will be added to monthly phone bills or people can
pay-as-they-go, said Mr Golding.
Downloaded music can be stored on a PC and listened to via the music player
as many times as people want, he said.
"I do not believe in the idea of renting music," said Mr Golding. "Once it
is in the player it is yours, it's a permanent digital download."