Cricket Communications, a unit of prepaid service provider Leap Wireless, has introduced what it calls the first music service from a carrier to be offered as part of a new wireless rate plan. Rolling out in January, the Muve Music service will feature a catalog of music from the four major record labels: Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Music.
For $55 a month, in addition to unlimited calling, text and mobile Web access, Muve Music customers will get unlimited full track downloads, ringtones and ringback tones on Cricket's 3G network. The system also uses a new SanDisk technology that allows DRM-free over-the-air downloads, stored and protected on a special flash memory card.
The music service will debut on the Samsung Suede feature phone, which will sell for $199 and has a 3-inch touchscreen and Qwerty keyboard. It will also feature a dedicated button to give users one-touch access to Muve Music. Cricket said the new offering was the culmination of working with the record companies over the last two years toward a flat-rate plan to deliver music more conveniently on mobile phones.
Ben Bajarin, director of Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, suggested Muve could herald a new mobile-centric model for digital music. "By tightly integrating the music service into the handset and the billing plan everyone in the value chain benefits and consumers have a complete music service where the phone is the hub not the PC," he said in a statement.
Apple has long dominated mobile music through its iTunes download service in tandem with the iPod, iPhone and now, iPad. But Cricket's service is aimed at no-contract customers using handsets other than the iPhone, sold only by AT&T. Whether Muve Music helps drive more customers to Cricket, and has a wider impact on the wireless industry, should become more clear in the first half of 2011.
An initial hands-on review by PCMag.com found the service to have a wide range of top hits and decent sound quality, even if not suited "for high-end audio aficionados." It also highlighted features like a "My DJ" function to analyze songs you've been listening to and suggest similar ones, and a "shout" option to send links to songs via SMS.
Cricket is the nation's seventh-largest wireless operator, with about 5 million subscribers in 35 states.