Ericsson has been partnering with Sony to develop a hosted service known as M-USE, which allows telcos to sell music and related content (such as ringtones and icons) for direct access on mobile phones. Executives visited Australia earlier this month to negotiate deals with local labels and mobile operators.
"We're talking to all the operators over there [in Australia]," Svante Holm, head of music operations in Ericsson's global competence centre for media, said during the 3GSM Congress in Cannes. "From the operator side, everyone is looking for music services."
Sony has already agreed to participate in the service on a global basis, and Ericsson has been seeking deals with the other four major labels (BMG, EMI, Universal, and Warner Music).
"For Australia and New Zealand, we have one confirmed big label, and we're talking to the others," Holm said. He declined to state which label was involved or to put a timeframe on possible launch dates, though he added: "My guess is that you will see something there in the relatively near future."
Given their ubiquity, mobile phones are an obvious target for music downloads, and could potentially represent a threat to the growing popularity of iPods and other portable music players. However, the lack of a common digital rights management (DRM) platform could stall the uptake of phones as playback devices.
To date, M-USE has concentrated on streaming content to avoid copyright problems, but Holm said that DRM-protected music would be available for direct download on some phones later this year.
"The record industry does not want a repeat of the Internet experience, where everyone got used to having music for free," Holm said. "Here, you've got a channel that everyone's used to paying for, and they want to keep it that way."
Ericsson itself is pursuing the hosted services market more aggressively as a means of diversifying its revenue streams and reducing its dependence on hardware-heavy telco deals. Its major announcement at the 3GSM conference is expected to be a parcel of new hosting services and packages.
Angus Kidman travelled to Cannes as a guest of Ericsson.