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Cricket launches music service for mobile phones

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Cricket Communications is launching a new music service for wireless customers, offering unlimited song downloads as part of a monthly rate plan.

For $55 per month, Cricket -- part of low-cost carrier Leap Wireless International Inc -- will sell a combined voice, data and text plan, along with all-you-can-download music, starting in January.

The company said the new Muve service will offer music from the four major record labels: Vivendi’s Universal Music Group; Warner Music Group; Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Music.

“Muve will always have all the major content that all the major labels have,” said Jeff Toig, general manager of voice and data products at Cricket.

Unlike some other digital music services, Muve is rooted in the mobile phone itself. It will launch on the $199 Samsung Suede, which is equipped with a special card from flash memory maker SanDisk. The Suede will be able to hold between 2,000 to 3,000 songs.

The music is stored on and tied to the card, and cannot be removed. If a customer stops paying for Muve, they lose access to the music.

Toig said Muve will also be available on smartphones running Google’s Android software in the future.

Leap -- which plans to rename itself as “Cricket” -- competes with MetroPCS and Sprint-Nextel’s unit Boost Mobile, and caters to the pay-as-you-go market, which has low average revenue per user.

Cricket operates in 34 U.S. states and counts more than 5 million customers. The vast majority of its customers pay in cash and have incomes less than $50,000 a year. Around half are under the age of 35 and do not have a personal computer.

Toig said Muve represents a different approach than music services like Apple’s iTunes, which are rooted in PCs and require a credit card to buy music.

He declined to say how Cricket will split sales with the music labels, but said the deal is based on the number of subscribers.

“Our models are aligned, they’re paid per sub, per month,” Toig said.

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