Cricket Wireless to Fold Unlimited Music Downloads Into Regular Cell Service

Muve Music service plan bundles tunes, ringtones and ringbacks with 3G calling, Internet, texting and email for $55 per month

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Budget cell phone provider Cricket Wireless, which specializes in no-contract plans, isn’t the fastest, most widespread carrier, or the top name that springs to mind when shopping for a new handset. But it is among the first to offer flat-rate unlimited music downloads with its Muve Music service plan, which bundles endless tunes, ringtones and ringback tones with 3G calling, Internet, texting and email for $55 per month.

Unlike traditional all-you-can-eat music subscription services including Napster and Rhapsody, which average $8-10 per month for play via compatible apps on mobile phones, Muve Music’s plans are packaged as a regular wireless bill. Songs, which are effectively rented, don’t disappear when subscriptions end, either -- users who skip a month are able to reclaim their collection upon resuming service. Features including song playback, ringtone creation and playlist assembly are also accessed right from compatible phones, with no need for a PC or additional software downloads. Songs from the major labels (Sony, EMI, Universal and Warner) are tied directly to the phone and not transferable to other devices, though they will be transportable between Cricket handsets.

The first smartphone supporting the new service, which also enables on-deck music discovery and sharing, will be the $199 Samsung Suede, which debuts in Las Vegas on January 6, 2011 during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Ten more markets will follow by the end of January, with a national rollout expected by summer.

Prior efforts to pair unlimited downloads with mobile phones like Nokia’s Comes With Music initiative, which offered songs for a hidden up-front cost with phone purchases, have stalled outright or struggled due to high prices. While many enthusiasts still don’t view cell phones as viable iPod substitutes, Cricket hopes to bridge the gap by letting mobile users quickly build an extensive, affordable digital music collection.

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