TOKYO ( ChipWire) -- The Secure Digital Card (SD) consortium got a lift today when Japan's dominant wireless carrier NTT Mobile Communications (Docomo) and Matsushita Communications Industrial Co. Ltd. announced plans to set up a wireless music distribution network that will let users download songs onto SD-compatible portable phones and audio recorders.
The companies will form a venture called Air Media Inc., which will be 51% owned by NTT Docomo and 49% by Matsushita. Air Media will start testing its Mobile Media Distribution Service in April, and expects to launch commercial services by fall. Music will be distributed over Docomo's 64-kilobit-per-second Personal Handyphone Service. The company is also planning to make the service available over wideband code division multiple access, which is expected to be launched in Japan by the spring of 2001.
Under the service, users will be able to download and sample songs, concert information and other programming from a database linked to Air Media, which will have its own distribution servers with copy protection and compression schemes. Air Media will implement the EMDLB music distribution system, which is being developed in the United States by UMG, BMG, AT&T and Matsushita. Docomo will oversee the customer database, bill collecting, sales and marketing.
Customers will be able to download songs using either a PHS equipped with an SD card slot and audio functionality or an SD-compatible audio player. The SD card format was launched last year by Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., Sandisk Corp. and Toshiba Corp. to pave the way for Internet music downloads amid continued worries by the music industry about pirated MP3 titles (see Oct. 7, 1999 story ).
Backed by its own service provider, SD will now compete head-on with Sony Corp., which has launched its own secure music distribution service using the Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding 3 compression scheme that is part of its MemoryStick Walkman.
Meanwhile, Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd., Fujitsu Ltd., Hitachi Ltd. and Infineon Technologies AG are promoting their own flash card format for music downloads, called the Secure Multimedia Card (MMC). Both the SD card and Secure MMC card were derived from an earlier MMC standard, but the new versions from each group are not compatible.