Vodafone Grooves to MusicStation

Vodafone UK stole some of Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s thunder in Europe with the launch of an unlimited music download service ahead of the revelation of the iPhone distribution partners on this side of the pond. (See V'fone Adds HSPA Handsets.)

Vodafone announced today that it will offer in the U.K. Omnifone Ltd. 's MusicStation service, which provides unlimited music downloads for £1.99 (US$4) per week.

The music service news increases the speculation that Vodafone does not have an exclusive iPhone deal with Apple. Over the weekend, Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin shared his view on the famous device with London's Sunday Times: "It's a 2G phone, not 3G. When it's a broadband phone we will be interested in carrying it."

Vodafone will be the second operator to offer the service after Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN) launched it in Sweden in June. Omnifone claims to have signed up 30 mobile operator partners in Europe, Asia, and Africa. (See MEM Sizzles on the Riviera.)

MusicStation has a library of more than 1 million tracks from independent labels, Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, EMI Music, and Warner Music.

Vodafone says the service can be downloaded onto 70 percent to 80 percent of its current handsets. And the operator unveiled the new handset range for this Christmas season, which includes several 3G HSPDA handsets, such as the N95 8Gb from Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), the SGH-F700V from Samsung Corp. , and the W910i from Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications . The MusicStation service will be preloaded onto these three devices.

Interestingly, MusicStation will compete directly with Nokia's own new Music Store on the Nokia N95 8Gb handset, because it comes preloaded with the device maker's service. So, users will have a choice of which music download service to use on that particular handset. (See Nokia Stakes Claim on Services and Nokia Launches Internet Services.)

"We think we have very good insights into how customers want to use content services," says Tim Yates, chief marketing officer of Vodafone UK. "Nokia's is an interesting service, but we have good, in-depth knowledge of mobilizing services."

The MusicStation service will be accessed through the Vodafone Live! portal and billed on the customer's Vodafone phone bill. Tracks are downloaded over-the-air and directly to users' handsets. Subscribers will also be able to create a profile to receive relevant music news and updates and share tracks with other MusicStation users.

"For the first time, we're giving unlimited access to music," says Vodafone's Yates. "[The service] will meet the way customers want to consume music when they're out and about. We don't think anyone else will have a service like this in the U.K., at least for this coming Christmas season."

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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