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AT&T Wireless opens mobile music store

Can't wait to get home to iTunes? Now you can claim that tune for downloading to your cell phone.

AT&T Wireless is launching a mobile-phone-based digital music store, hoping to catch members of the iPod generation who might be eager to buy music while they're away from their computer.

The company is offering what amounts to the iTunes experience recast for the mobile phone. Customers will be able to search a catalog of music and buy individual songs for 99 cents each. The songs are actually downloaded to a computer later.

The company is looking at a core market of people who hear a song on the radio or on a jukebox and can't wait to get home to buy it, a company executive said.

"Now consumers no longer have to scribble down the names of songs they've discovered and wait until they get home to download them onto their computers," Sam Hall, vice president of mMode services for AT&T Wireless, said in a statement. "The convenience and immediacy of our mobile digital music store lets users remotely explore and buy digital music while on the move."

The mobile phone market has been a source of sometimes surprising revenue for the music industry over the past few years, as consumers--largely overseas--have spent billions of dollars on ring tones to personalize their phones.

Use of phones as actual music players has only just begun to take off, however. Some industry executives see music for cell phones as a wholly separate market, to be developed as more people start downloading or streaming music over high-bandwidth wireless connections.

Technology companies including Microsoft, RealNetworks and Apple Computer have been quickly trying to sign up cell phone manufacturers and operators to support their audio software in order to prepare for a day when phones handle more multimedia content.

Phone networks in the United States aren't quite ready for that step, however. The AT&T Wireless service acts as more of an adjunct to familiar PC-based download stores than an actual mobile music service.

Like most Apple rivals, the service will sell songs in the Windows Media format. Browsers can listen to 30-second samples on their phones before buying, as long as the phones support either Windows Media or RealNetworks' audio format.

AT&T Wireless also offers a service in which customers can identify a song on the radio by holding the phone close to a speaker. That service, called Music ID, will be a key part of the new mobile music store's appeal, the company said.

The mobile offering will be powered by music service wholesaler Loudeye, and was built in consultation with Microsoft.