MMW-50 -- The Lowdown on Vodafone's Ringtone Services Down Under

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J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
M U S I C M E D I A W A T C H
Commentary on the week's music technology news
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Issue No. 50
Tuesday, October 7, 2003
Melbourne, Australia

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CONTENTS

++ FEATURE: The Lowdown on Vodafone's Ringtone Services Down Under

++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS:
** KDDI to Offer FM Radio on Cellphones
** Sony Music Edges Closer to Starting Online Service
** Dell Moves into Online Music Business

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++ FEATURE: The Lowdown on Vodafone's Ringtone Services Down Under

During a recent trip to Melbourne, I checked out the Vodafone Live!
mobile service that launched not long ago in Australia and New
Zealand. Curious about the state of the ringtone market in this
region, I headed to the music section of the Vodafone Live portal and
started browsing the music content offerings. Here, then, is a summary
of what Vodafone is currently offering in the way of mobile music to
its subscribers Down Under.

The first thing I noticed about the Vodafone Live polyphonic ringtone
services in Australia is that there aren't very many of them -- two,
to be exact. Of these, one is Vodafone's own service while the other
is offered by the Australian branch of Paris-based Musiwave. Neither
of these services are subscription-based. Rather, users pay on a
per-song basis, with the general price being around A$3.30 (US$2.25)
per ringtone download. Both of these services are a bit difficult to
navigate. The Musiwave site has no search function, and the Vodafone
service offers only artist search. Neither site appears to have more
than a few hundred songs in its catalog.

The Australian Vodafone Live service is currently offered on 10
handsets from five different manufacturers: Sharp, Panasonic, Nokia,
Sony-Ericsson and Motorola. While I was not able to obtain much
information on the Motorola models, I did manage to try out the
ringtone services on all of the others. These phones all support at
least 16-voice polyphony, and the sound quality is comparable to that
of Vodafone's Japanese handsets. The overall quality of the handsets
is quickly catching up to those in Japan, but the Vodafone network is
erratic at best, and dropped connections are a frequent occurrence.

There are two different sound formats used on the handsets for the
Australian Vodafone Live service: Yamaha's Smaf (on the Sharp models)
and Beatnik's SP-Midi (all other models). These formats each have
their own set of selling points. For example, the Smaf format on the
Sharp models allows the user to sample the ringtone prior to
purchasing. The Sony-Ericsson and Nokia phones don't have this
feature, but they do come with a media player for SP-Midi files that
allows you to pause the song at any point -- something we have yet to
see in Japan.

With approximately 2.2 million subscribers, Vodafone has about an 18
percent share of the Australian mobile phone market and is no doubt
looking to expand on that base by actively promoting its leading edge
data services such as polyphonic ringtones. While several of the
larger Japanese ringtone providers have set up services in the US and
Europe, so far none have made it to Australia and New Zealand.
Handsets capable of playing polyphonic ringtones have only been on the
market for the past year, and Vodafone's service is the first to allow
direct downloading of the songs to your phone, as opposed to ordering
over a Web site via credit card.

While the overall size of the ringtone market in Australia and New
Zealand is unlikely to ever rival that of Japan or the US, this region
still offers a great opportunity for Japanese providers looking to
expand their services. These companies have a chance to enter the
market while it's still in its infancy, with very few competitors or
restrictions. Indeed, Vodafone is currently rumored to be actively
courting ringtone services for its menu. So, as the domestic Japanese
market continues to stagnate, don't be surprised to see some familiar
names appearing on the Australian and New Zealand Vodafone ringtone
menus in the coming months.

-- Steve Myers

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++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS

** KDDI to Offer FM Radio on Cellphones

In brief: KDDI and 53 Japanese FM broadcasting companies made a recent
joint announcement that they would begin offering FM radio for users
of KDDI's au mobile phone service. By the end of this year, KDDI is
expected to launch a new handset with an FM tuner, and the FM programs
will be available via a headphone attached to the phone. KDDI has also
said that it will soon offer a music downloading service for its
mobile phones.

Source:
http://neasia.nikkeibp.com/wcs/leaf?CID=onair/asabt/news/269407

Link:
"Ready to Rock" on KDDI's song clip download service (Feb. 2003)
http://www.japaninc.net/article.php?articleID=1014

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** Sony Music Edges Closer to Starting Online Service

In brief: On October 1, Sony Music Entertainment took another big step
toward the start of its much-anticipated Japanese music download
service by acquiring 66 percent of Label Gate. SME is expected to open
its Web site for online music searches and downloads in mid-October.
Label Gate will become a subsidiary of SME and will provide much of
the music delivery technology. SME has said it is aiming to offer a
catalog of over 100,000 songs by the summer of next year.

Source:
http://neasia.nikkeibp.com/wcs/leaf?CID=onair/asabt/news/269461

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=================================================

** Dell Moves Into Online Music Business

In brief: Dell Computer announced recently that it would soon be
releasing a new set of consumer electronic products, including its
first digital music player. In addition, the company said it would
also be launching its own online music service. It's believed to be
collaborating with MusicMatch on the service.

Source:
http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/afp/20030925/tc_afp/us
_technology_dell_030925190813

Link:
"Innovations -- Groundbreaking Technology from Japan" (July 2002)
http://www.japaninc.net/article.php?articleID=847

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STAFF
Written by: Steve Myers (steve@thetamusic.com)
Steve Myers is president and chief enthusiast of Theta Music
Technologies, which specializes in the development of music-related
software applications.

Edited by J@pan Inc editors: (editors@japaninc.com)

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