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Industry Perspectives: Mobile Music Streaming—An Alternative to Downloading

Another point is that digital rights management (DRM) protection locks the downloaded files to a specific device (so called forward–lock); while a streaming-based solution can be very open in terms of moving content to other devices.

Benefits of Streaming to the Consumers
The key benefits of streaming to the consumer are that it requires no storage on the mobile and allows access to a vast library of content with minimal delay to start playback.

This should also support user-created playlists, to play songs in the desired order or in a randomized shuffle mode. A music streaming service can be considered a network-based MP3, player giving the consumer their own personalized listening service.

With all these advantages, one may wonder why downloading still dominates the mobile music services available today?

A possible reason may be that until a few years ago there were no high-speed networks available at a competitive rate, which is essential to stream large amounts of data to the mobile. With the advent of 3G networks it is certainly now feasible to deliver high-quality music and video to customers.

Furthermore, when the mobile is out of network coverage it’s not possible to receive any streams, in which case customers may prefer to download music to the mobile to play at any time.

Benefits of Streaming to the Mobile Operators
Streaming also benefits the carriers, as they can leverage their purchasing power with the music labels to create a massive song library and earn ongoing revenues from this investment. The licensing cost of a streaming platform should be reasonable enough to leave an attractive profit margin.

Carriers need not worry about digital rights management (DRM) restrictions as they are not "selling" the music; rather they’re loaning it to the subscriber.

Music artists enjoy a similar benefit to the network operator, as rather than a one-off revenue from selling a song, they can receive recurring royalties if customers regularly listen to their favourite songs.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the key differences between downloading and streaming:
Data storage on mobile: Required for downloading; not needed for streaming.
File transfer speed: Depends on device and transfer medium for downloading; depends on network and streaming software for mobile.
Cost: $1 or more per song for download; depends on carrier for mobile, but many music packages are $10 per month for all you can listen to.
Software requirements: May need additional software to manage songs effectively for downloading; usually no additional software for streaming.
Wait time for song: Between 1-6 minutes on 3G network under ideal conditions; negligible (typically between 3-5 seconds startup delay) for streaming.
Royalties: One-time for download; on-going for streaming.

It should be realised that even though a streaming service can be a very interactive and dynamic approach for music services, it does face some technical challenges.

A streaming customer must be online with network access to play their songs. However, other components in the system can provide a transparent synchronization (where strategic parts of the content are synchronized between network and mobile when in-coverage), so that the streaming-based music service can operate in all scenarios, working smoothly also in areas of poor coverage and when the consumer needs to be offline.

A mobile streaming service can provide a realistic alternative (or enhancement) to a download service, especially when delivered over a high-speed 3G network that has widespread coverage.

It can also provide features not possible with a download-only offering such as live events and longer music tracks, and saves considerable space on the user’s device in addition to decreased time to wait to start playing (a key benefit in today’s world, where consumers want their products immediately).

With the shift in paradigm from download-only and greater user acceptance, there should be increased take-up of streaming services both on the Internet and in the mobile space – something which surely benefits consumers, content providers and carriers alike.

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