3GSM 2007: Omnifone takes on iPhone & iTunes

MusicStation is currently backed by 23 mobile networks in 40 countries, and the UK is next

Before the Apple iPhone has even hit the shelves there are plans to outrival Apple's forthcoming mobile phone/music player. A new mobile music download service was launched at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona today: the MusicStation service will enable users to download music to their mobile phones for a weekly charge.

London-based company Omnifone has developed the software, and several network operators are expected to sign up to the service before Apple launches its iPhone in the UK later this year. It is currently backed by 23 mobile networks in 40 countries.

The MusicStation service will offer users unlimited access to over one million full-track songs, downloadable to their mobile handsets, for a weekly subscription charge of £2. A premium service will offer downloads to both a mobile phone, and PC or Mac computer for £3 per week.

Rob Lewis, chief executive of Omnifone, said: "MusicStation will give users of any music-capable handset the ability to legally access, download and enjoy an unlimited amount of music, from a global music catalogue supported by the music industry, all for a small weekly fee, wherever they are."

Universal already signed up

Leading music company Universal Music has already signed up to the service, along with a number of other music companies. Rob Wells, head of Universal Music's digital unit, said the MusicStation service was "one of the most consumer-friendly and secure platforms we have seen".

The MusicStation software will be an 'iPod lookalike' with easy access to playlists. Songs that are rarely played will be automatically removed to make room for songs that are played more often. It also links to a mobile community similar to MySpace.

The music comes with built-in digital rights management (DRM) technology, that locks up 24 hours after the subscription ends. The software stays on the phone and can be reactivated.

Omnifone said the biggest advantage of its service is that it works with around 75 per cent of existing mobile phones, and offers support for both PC and Mac. The service downloads music over the air using a mobile data network, and is compatible with 2.5G and 3G technologies.

Robin Bloor, founder of Bloor Research, said: "Omnifone has a great opportunity, partly because Apple is doing exclusive deals with carriers and leaving others out in the cold. Apple isn't willing to share its iTunes revenue with the carriers, and Apple has only one expensive device that is highly priced."