Napster: Future of music downloads is over the air

Huge future growth is expected in over-the-air downloads of songs to cell phones and handhelds

How many songs have you downloaded?

The average number is 375 songs, according to Napster, but the online music subscription service also knows that some users have downloaded an astounding 70,000 songs to their PCs. From there, they can be side-loaded to any number of MP3 players via a USB cable.

However, tremendous future growth is expected in over-the-air downloads of songs to cell phones and handhelds, said William Pence, chief technology officer of Napster in New York.

As a result, Napster and other online music providers are in the midst of trying to persuade U.S. cellular network providers to offer cellular pricing plans that will allow over-the-air downloads capable of supporting heavy users, Pence said at Computerworld's Mobile & Wireless World in Orlando.

"Your phone is now your MP3 player. We've seen a steady increase of cell phones and handsets ... and even BlackBerry now beginning to move into entertainment," Pence said. "There's a worldwide explosion of all kinds of innovative devices, not only handsets but entertainment devices in living rooms and cars."

While over-the-air music downloads are common in Asia, U.S. cellular providers "are not as far along, and there is fear [for some carriers] about what it all means," Pence said. "We believe in an all-you-can-eat model, but carriers say there is a potential for swamping the network."

In an interview, Pence said U.S. carriers should drop steep fees for large downloads. In most cases, users would not swamp the networks in a practical sense, but users perceive the steep pricing rates as a disincentive.

Napster is finishing a deal with NTT Docomo in Japan to provide over-the-air downloads there, he said, showing that some carriers are not as concerned about clogging the networks.

The U.S. online music industry is about 10 percent of the entire US$34 billion global market, but will grow to about 35 percent of the market in 2010, Pence predicted, putting it just behind Japan in 2010. Even in 2010, Japan will still have a greater percentage of downloads over-the-air than the U.S.

As over-the-air downloads grow, carriers and online providers may work together on subscription plans to attract users instead of pricing songs for 99 cents each or more. Subscription plans tend to bring more downloads per user. "If you get users downloading 70,000 songs to a PC, you wonder what this might mean for mobile devices," Pence said.

In addition, ad-supported models are coming as well, Pence said.

The ads will probably target "older professionals," who are the predominant users of paid digital music services. "College students still do not pay for music, and the people who do pay are older professionals who have more money than time," Pence said.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Matt Hamblen

Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial Ballistix Elite 32GB Kit (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 UDIMM

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Plox Star Wars Death Star Levitating Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?