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Sprint hears echoes of mobile music

The wireless carrier is expected to announce Wednesday that it is offering a new music information service through its Vision mobile Internet plan.

Sprint PCS is jumping back into online music services, but far more tentatively than during the height of the dot-com days.

The company is expected to announce Wednesday that it is offering a new music information service through its Vision mobile Internet plan. The service will tap into music company's Rhapsody 411 database of artist and album information, allowing browsers access to data such as musicians' discographies and music recommendations via cell phones.

The service, which has also been implemented on a lesser scale by AT&T Wireless, marks some resurgence in interest in the music realm by wireless companies once keenly interested in tapping the MP3 boom.

"I think they're getting smarter in how to package it," said P.J. McNealy, research director with Gartner G2, a division of the Gartner research company. "But their challenge has always been integrated billing, and there is always a question of consumer demand."

Interest in wireless music services of some variety is unquestionably climbing among record label executives. Many say that the new fast wireless networks give them a new venue for marketing, if not necessarily distributing, their music.

Sony Music has been one of the leaders of the new drumbeat, forming a new mobile phone-focused unit last month.

The new services are less ambitious than deals announced back in the go-go dot-com days, however. Two years ago, Sprint announced that it would have an online music locker service, in which people could store and listen to songs through a combination phone/MP3 player.

That company providing that service was a casualty of the Internet crash not long afterward, however.

The new Sprint information service will be carried for people signing up for its Vision wireless data plan, which costs cell phone subscribers an additional $10 a month on top of their voice service.

"This is the first step toward doing other kinds of entertainment services as we educate the market on what you can do with the (new high-speed data) phones," said Jenny Morford, a Sprint PCS spokeswoman.

Sprint's local phone division also announced that it will offer's full Rhapsody online music subscription service to its DSL (digital subscriber line) customers.