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Sprint offers streaming mobile music

Sure, it might sound like a radio. But it's commercial-free, and a step toward a music-filled phone.

Sprint on Monday plans to launch a new service for streaming music over the airwaves to cell phones, powered by a company that provides digital music to cable and satellite TV subscribers.

Under the terms of the deal, Music Choice is providing a range of six streaming music channels organized by genre, as well as some music videos and artist interviews for Sprint subscribers who pay about $6 a month. If that sounds a little bit like the radio, it's not entirely a bad comparison, said Dave Del Beccaro, CEO of Music Choice.

The deal is part of a broader drive to turn the humble mobile phone into a kind of iPod on steroids.

"It's like radio in the sense that now you have access to music wherever you are," Del Beccaro said. "But it's better than radio. It's a subscription service, and commercial-free."

The deal is part of a broader drive by mobile phone companies and record labels to turn the humble mobile phone into a kind of iPod on steroids. This trend is particularly strong in Europe and Asia, where mobile phone operators have more advanced data networks and are eager to recoup the tens of billions of dollars they spent for rights to their mobile spectrum.

Many of the music services, including ones recently launched in France and Spain, offer full song downloads to phones, which can then store and play them back like an iPod or other MP3 player. Sony is operating a streaming music service called StreamMan in Finland, with plans to expand it across Europe.

U.S. mobile operators, which are still building their high-speed data networks, have been less ambitious to date with music services. AT&T Wireless offers a way to purchase music through a phone, but the song is downloaded to a computer rather than the phone itself, for example.

The Sprint service will be the first mobile phone-based streaming music service in the United States. It hits the market not long after XM Satellite Radio released a portable version of its hardware called the MyFi.

A Sprint spokeswoman said the streaming music model is a natural step for the company. This fall, Sprint introduced its Vision packages, which include access to streamed TV stations, news and other entertainment. The new service will initially be available on the Sanyo mm7400 phone, and future Sprint multimedia phones also will support it, the spokeswoman said.

Del Beccaro said the initial version of his company's streaming service was relatively minimal, without some of the personalization features and larger number of channels available through the television. The mobile industry wanted to see how people would react to the offer, and what effects it would have on the networks, he said.

"It's a crawl, walk, run thing, and right now we're crawling with Sprint," he said. "It's easy to predict that all of our content will eventually be available on mobile phones."