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Cingular Launching MP3 Phones That Play Subscription Downloads

Atlanta – Cingular Wireless will complement its selection of iTunes-compatible phones with phones that play protected Windows Media Audio (WMA) music tracks downloaded from multiple authorized download sites to a PC.

The phones will be the first traditional-style cellphones compatible with authorized subscription-download sites, including Napster and Yahoo! Music. Those sites sell WMA tracks from major and independent labels. The phones will also be compatible with subscription downloads from eMusic, which sells songs from independent artists in MP3 format.

Cingular subscribers will sign up for the services through Cingular’s site and be billed on their monthly cellular bill.

The plans are part of a more aggressive music strategy that includes the availability of 25 streaming XM Satellite radio channels beginning Nov. 6 and a recent agreement to stream radio stations operated by the ClearChannel broadcast group.

Cingular’s music strategy will evolve further sometime next year, when the carrier plans phones that download music tracks over-the-air. Such phones are already available from carriers Sprint, Verizon, and SunComm. For now, hweover, Cingular is happy to offer phones that play “side-loaded” music because it offers “the best consumer experience” and because “people are already familiar” with transferring downloaded music from a PC to a portable MP3 player, a spokeswoman said. When Cingular launches over-the-air downloads, she added, the company will continue to offer phones that play side-loaded music.

Cingular’s newest side-loading music phones, starting with Samsung’s Sync, will be the first traditional-style cellphones compatible with authorized subscription-download sites, which enable users to download all the songs they can fit on their PC’s hard drive and play them back for as long as a monthly subscription fee of $10 to $15/month is paid up. Once those downloaded songs are transferred, or “side-loaded,” to the Samsung Sync and other compatible phones, the songs will be playable on the phones for as long as the subscription is paid up.

Select PDA-phones based on Microsoft’s PocketPC operating systems already play WMA subscription downloads, as well as individually purchased downloads, through their Windows Media Player application. Traditional-style cellphones that play purchased WMA downloads, but not subscription WMA downloads, are available from carrier Verizon.

Unlike Cingular’s trio of iTunes phones, the Samsung Sync and other compatible models will feature memory card slots that will store more songs than the iTunes-compatible phones, which store music only in embedded memory and have a 100-song capacity.

Sync will be available Monday at Cingular-owned stores, Cingular-branded stores operated by authorized agents, and Cingular’s Web site, which will enable users to click to download sites operated by other companies to download songs. Other compatible phones will be available in the first quarter.

Sync will retail for $49.99 after $100 rebate with two-year contract. A PC-connectivity bundle costs an extra $49.99. Memory cards in three capacities will also be available for use with the phones at prices up to $79.97 for a 1GB card.

Sync joins three phones compatible with Apple’s iTunes download service and available since last September.

For now, Cingular doesn’t plan to offer a Cingular-branded download store, opting instead to link consumers via its own Web site to existing Napster, Yahoo! Music, and eMusic download sites. The phones, however, are compatible with any subscription-download site using the WMA codec and Microsoft’s digital-rights management (DRM) technology.

Consumers can go to Cingular, however, to activate the XM streaming service, which plays through select handsets for $8.99/month.