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Cingular Adds WMA Phones, XM Streams

Cingular Wireless ramped up its music strategy with a new XM Satellite Radio streaming service and the carrier’s first traditional-style cellphone that plays protected WMA downloads transferred from a PC.

The WMA-compatible phone, the Samsung-made Sync, is also the first traditional-style phone in the United States to be compatible with authorized subscription-download sites, including Napster and Yahoo! Music. Those sites offer WMA tracks for purchase or for subscription download. The phone is also compatible with subscription downloads from eMusic, which sells songs from independent artists in MP3 format.

Sync is the first of several subscription-compatible WMA phones from Cingular, with more due in the first quarter. They will complement Cingular’s selection of iTunes-compatible music phones.

Select PDA phones based on Microsoft’s PocketPC operating systems already play WMA subscription downloads and individually purchased downloads through their Windows Media Player application.

Currently available traditional-style cellphones from Verizon plan purchased WMA downloads transferred from a PC but not subscription downloads.

With authorized subscription-download sites, users download all the songs they can fit on a PC 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 Sync and other compatible phones, the songs will be playable on the phones for as long as the subscription is paid up.

Cingular’s music strategy will evolve further sometime next year, when the carrier plans phones that download music tracks over-the-air.

The carrier’s WMA-phone announcement marks the first time that consumers can pay for a subscription-download service, or for a third-party operator’s pay-per-song downloads, through their monthly cellular bill, said ABI analyst Ken Hyers.

The XM streaming service costs $8.99/month and is available through select handsets that let users choose channels by genre. Song titles, artist name and album name appear on the compatible handsets.

Sync became available Nov. 6 at Cingular-owned stores, Cingular-branded stores operated by authorized agents, and Cingular’s Web site, which will enable users to click to the Napster, Yahoo and eMusic sites to download songs. Alternately, consumers can go directly to the sites.

Sync will retail for $49.99 after $100 rebate with two-year contract. A PC-connectivity bundle costs an extra $49.99.

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.