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Mobile 'impulse downloading' plays live in the new year

DAB joins the digital music party

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Mobile radio listeners will be able to download tracks as as they hear them from early next year. Radio production outfit UBC and Heart FM will roll out downloads via DAB in beta form this year, with a full commercial launch in Q1 2007.

Each track, which cost £1.25 in the recent pilot project in Birmingham, comes as two WMA files.

One is delivered to the phone and rated at 32kbps - which UBC claims was acceptable quality in the trial, with 84 of 100 users satisfied - and a higher quality 128kbps version more suitable for adding to users' music libraries which will be accessible online.

The Register understands the first device able to take advantage of the technology will be Virgin Mobile's Lobster DAB-enabled phone, which launches this week. The first order Virgin placed with manufacturer HTC was for 40,000 handsets.

UBC's download project director Pascal Grierson told us the service would enter beta testing in all five of Heart FM's DAB broadcast areas in December. All being well a full launch will go ahead in the new year.

The driver for mobile music downloads via DAB comes from radio stations, forced to seek new revenue streams in light of falling advertising sales.

Mobile downloads over DAB will face big competitors in the form of the mobile operators however, all of whom fancy themselves as direct providers, it being an obvious application of their massively expensive 3G investment. Witness the ubiquitous industry sponsorship of every music festival/award show/tv programme this year.

Manufacturers like Nokia are building music content operations too, and there are competing technologies going up against DAB for delivering digital radio and TV to handsets. DAB has users beyond mobile phones, of course.

Also in its favour, UBC says the simplicity and instant gratification offered by DAB downloads will open opportunities previously untapped by digital music marketing, particularly among women. ®

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