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Tue, May 23, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Sony-KDDI to launch music cell in Japan


Sony will offer a Walkman cellphone in Japan next month that will enable users to download music onto their handsets in a partnership with No. 2 mobile carrier KDDI, both sides said yesterday.

Japanese electronics and entertainment company Sony Corp already offers a Walkman phone that's a portable music player in other parts of the world. But such a product is a first for the Japanese market, where more than 90 percent of the music downloads are carried out directly into cell-phones, rather than personal computers.

The handsets from Sony Ericsson, Tokyo-based Sony's mobile phone joint venture with Sweden's LM Ericsson, will come with 1 gigabyte of built-in memory that's enough to store 630 songs, and will play for 30 hours straight, company officials said.

Sony has already sold 5.5 million Walkman phones in the rest of the world since August last year, and hopes the handset will catch on in Japan as well.

The Walkman phones in Japan will connect to a digital music store operated by KDDI Corp called Listen Mobile Service, or Lismo, for downloading music and will also download tunes directly into the cellphone in a separate KDDI service called "chaku-uta" that's already popular in Japan.

KDDI leads the Japanese market in cellphones that download music, and 47 million songs have already been downloaded through the chaku-uta service. But in the mobile phone market, it trails Japan's top mobile carrier NTT DoCoMo Inc, which has about a 60 percent market share.

Tokyo-based KDDI said it wanted to strengthen its music services to prepare for number portability which is expected in Japan by November, in which people will be able to switch carriers without changing phone numbers.

Competition is expected to intensify after Internet broadband company Softbank Corp recently acquired the Japan unit of British mobile company Vodafone Group PLC.

Softbank is expected to offer new kinds of mobile services and even more attractive pricing soon. Japan's top business daily has reported Softbank is in talks with Apple Computer Inc, which sells the hit iPod music player, to tie up in cellphones for music downloads for the Japanese market. Softbank has declined comment.

Koji Otsuka, a KDDI official, said the Walkman phone was an important part of the company's defenses ahead of the launch of number portability.

"We want to offer a wide variety of products through our powerful brand collaboration with Sony," he said. "We are a brand that caters to music lovers."

The companies didn't give a pricing for the phones, saying they would be set by retailers.

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