Ericsson to offer Napster music downloads

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Ericsson, the Swedish telecommunications group, will on Wednesday announce a far-reaching alliance with Napster to offer the US group's music downloads and subscription services to mobile network operators around the world.

Financial terms of the alliance have not been disclosed, but executives at both companies claim that it offers the “first fully integrated digital music service for mobile operators”.

Of the estimated 700m handsets expected to be sold this year, some 10 per cent are expected to be music “enabled” allowing for the downloading and storage of music tracks.

Leading music companies including Sony BMG and Britain's EMI are predicting digital sales of music, including to mobile devices, could account for 20-25 per cent of the total by the end of the decade.

Already sales of ring tones are thought to be worth $3.5bn a year, according to industry analysts.

A number of groups have launched mobile music services for network operators, such as Musiwave of France and Groove Mobile of the US, while Universal Music Mobile, part of the world's largest label, sells services to more than 75 telecoms groups.

Napster and Ericsson, however, said the new service would be among the first to support co-ordinated wireless and personal computer downloads.

Carl-Henric Svanberg, Ericsson chief executive, said: “We gain access to the strongest digital music brand in the world and exposure to the largest music catalogue available.”

Napster, the main rival to the Apple iTunes service, has rebuilt its subscription service since being acquired out of bankruptcy by Roxio, the US e-commerce business, more than two years ago. It now has 412,000 subscribers and revenues of $45m in the year to March 31.

Officials said mobile operators that take up the Napster branded service would participate in music sales by the two partners, and that the service would be launched initially in Europe within 12 months.

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