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Five Reasons Why Nokia, Vodafone and Other Unlimited Music Schemes Will Not Last Long

From "Comes with Music" to Musicstation, handset manufacturers and mobile network providers are going bonkers about bundling music with their products AND services in a bid to stem the annual migration of existing customers at the end of their contracts.

No wonder then that Sony Ericsson has its unlimited music service - Playnow Plus, Orange, its Musique Max, Nokia, Comes with Music and Vodafone, Musicstation

By gluing them literally to their music tracks, they think, end users will finally stop jittering around and stand in one place. They can be more off track and there's five reasons why these hastily assembled solutions don't stand a chance in the long run.

(a) They make false promises. Both Vodafone and Nokia push forward the argument of unlimited access to millions of tracks to sell their handsets and contracts. In reality, the tracks that you download will only remain accessible while you remain a customer. Also the "unlimited access" is actually subjected to personal and reasonable use. What is reasonable use however remains to be properly defined. And even if, in Nokia's case, you can keep the music you downloaded, DRM restrictions mens that tracks will only play on a registered phone and a registered PC.

(b) Handset says no. Handset incompatibility is going to be a major problem (or opportunity - depending on which side you are) for any attempts to launch a mobile music scheme. At the moment, Nokia's Come with music is only compatible with the rather old 2G Nokia 5310 Xpressmusic Phone which cost £129.95 at Carphone Warehouse (opens in new tab) and is scheduled to be launched on the 16th of October. The phone will also be available for free on £40 per month tariffs.

(c) Confusion from numbers. Both Vodafone and Nokia have separate Music stores as well. Vodafone has Vodafone Music store and Nokia has ... Nokia Music store (ed : talk about inspiration). They sell music just like iTunes and are bound to be sidelined by Vodafone and Nokia users respectively as getting tracks and albums is expensive. So will those two services close down? If not, does that mean that neither Vodafone nor Nokia is confident about unlimited music services?

(d) Roaming Mayhem. Vodafone's Musicstation could potentially become a financial liability if you plan to use your mobile to listen to music abroad as you may get charged for data transfers when Musicstation updates its menus and images. The same almost certainly applies to "Comes with Music" and any mobile music solution that incorporates Digital Rights Management. This may cause some serious PR damage if left unchecked.

(e) The Music Labels are greedy. As Theregister's Andrew Orlowski (opens in new tab) puts it, Nokia's free music for example is geared to make it feel like free. The business of Free or even very cheap, cannot be sustained for very long. Music labels don't want to re-edit the same errors they made with Apple by giving iTunes too much leverage on the digital music market. Expect some very dirty business in the background as they try to pit the major handset manufacturers and networks against each other in a bid to squeeze even more profits.

Unlimited music services are on paper an exciting proposal for the cash-strapped user but there are too many strings attached; the target audience, young music fans, could quickly become disillusioned by the wide number of restrictions on the services. Plus, in Nokia's case, the Finnish manufacturer is betting on users to continue buying (or at least sticking with) Nokia phones in order to have access to their music collection.

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.