Mobile Music: Digital Music Distribution over Mobile Networks

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The transition from physical to digital music distribution is bound to have profound implications on the music industry. So far, most of the activity related to digital music distribution has been centred on the fixed Internet. In the meantime, mobile operators have been making significant investments in extending their network capabilities to support data services. This paper includes an analysis of the current situation of music delivery in mobile networks, as well as future prospects enabled by the technical evolution of mobile networks. The overall feasibility, and the potentially most viable forms of, mobile music business are studied.

Key Words
Music industry, mobile communications, digital distribution, e-commerce, information economics.

1. Introduction

Until recently, ownership of recorded music has been always tied to a physical medium. The introduction of new encoding techniques, most notably the MP3 format, together with other technological developments towards the turn of the millennium have detached music from any physical medium. One of the most fundamental implications of this technological development is that it enables digital distribution of music. This has profound implications on the music industry, which heavily relies on physical distribution models. Initially disdained by the incumbent industry players, this new distribution channel has until recently only been successful as a channel for pirated content, enabled by a wave of peer-to-peer distribution technologies, effectively draining revenues from the incumbent players.

A second wave of digital music distribution soon followed, with the intent of diverting users from pirated content from peer-to-peer networks, while still offering the benefits enabled by digital music distribution. So far we have witnessed the success of at least one of the commercial services that is based on digital music distribution, namely Apple iTunes, which currently dominates the market success. The aim of this paper is to study the potential of mobile operators to repeat their success in mobilizing voice telephony also for digital music distribution. There is a wide range of definitions of mobile music, some limited to music playback over portable devices, and full-fledged distribution and consumption of music tracks on multimedia cellular terminals on the other extreme. This paper focuses on the latter definition, i.e. music download of entire music tracks over mobile networks for later consumption. As Figure 1 shows there are many other services that can fall under the definition of mobile music, but are out of the scope of this paper.

Figure 1 - Mobile music taxonomy (focus of this paper highlighted)

Before mobile operators can leverage any opportunities enabled by digital music distribution there are various technological gaps that need to be addressed. But more importantly, new business models and value chains need to be devised. This paper outlines the technical evolution that will shape the mobile music market place. The business aspects are studied with respect to a specific distribution chain which leverages the assets that differentiate mobile communication from fixed Internet.

The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2 presents the music industry foundations. This is followed by an overview of the mobile industry, in section 3. In section 4 a value chain for mobile music distribution is presented. The technical and business implications of mobile music are studied from the perspective of each of the various players in the value chain. Finally, section 5 summarizes the conclusions from this study

2. Music industry foundations

Before embarking on any discussion about mobile digital music distribution, this section gives an overview of the foundations that form the music industry. Economic properties, history of innovation and market...
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