How Napster Mobile Works

napster mobile
Napster Mobile lets users browse and download songs that can be played on compatible cell phones.
© Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

Forget CDs -- mobile music is where consumers are expected to spend their money in the coming years. Online music providers like Napster are poised to take advantage of the opportunity with offerings such as Napster Mobile that allow consumers to browse, buy and download artist images, ringtones and full-length songs from and for our cell phones.

Why the high level of interest? Garter Inc., an information technology research firm, chalks it up to personalization and entertainment. Buying ringtones and ringbacktones lets us personalize our cell phones, and if we can play music on a phone, we don't need to also carry around an iPod or MP3 player. We're a lot more likely to take our phone anyway: A survey by telecommunications supplier Ericsson found that 72 percent of 47,000 users always take their mobile phones when they leave home, while only 16 percent always take their music players.


Mobile phone users are expected to spend $32.2 billion downloading music to their cell phones by 2010, up from $13.7 billion in 2007, according to Gartner forecasts. The researchers define mobile music as everything from ringtones, realtones and ringbacktones to full-track downloads and music streaming.

The industry started in 1998 when cell-phone providers began selling ringtones to their users. Downloading songs has become the second most popular mobile phone service, topped only by text messaging. The history of Napster on cell phones started in 2006 when Napster and Ericsson introduced Napster Mobile.

What does Napster Mobile offer? How does Napster Work, and how do you use it? Let's start by learning more about what Napster Mobile does.


What is Napster Mobile?

motorola rockr
Many cellular service providers offer phones that play music like Motorola's Rokr.
© Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Napster Mobile allows you to browse, purchase and download songs from Napster using your cell phone. Exactly how it works depends on your mobile service provider. You may download songs to your cell phone, or copies may be sent to your PC.

Before we explore those possibilities, though, let's look quickly at Napster itself and the options for using Napster on cell phones. lets Web users listen legally to its catalog of more than five million songs from major and independent labels for free -- but only up to three times per song. To hear the song after that, you either have to buy it or subscribe to Napster, which allows unlimited, advertising-free access to music and other programming.


Napster offers two options for mobile phone users: Napster to Go and Napster Mobile. Napster to Go lets a Napster subscriber  transfer an unlimited amount of Napster music to a compatible MP3 player or mobile phone. Napster Mobile allows direct music downloads to your phone and single-track purchases -- with a 30-second preview before you buy. Depending on your wireless provider, you also can have copies of the songs you download sent automatically to your PC.

How this works varies, depending on your service provider. With some providers, you can buy and download songs directly to your cell phone while opting to have a free copy of the song sent automatically to your PC. With other providers, you can buy the song with your cell phone and e-mail it to your PC.

Whether you can use Napster to Go or Napster Mobile on your cell phone depends on your wireless provider. For a list of providers and which Napster service they offer, go to Napster.

Ready to give it a try? Keep reading to find out more about how you can use Napster Mobile.


Using Napster Mobile

music download
Downloading music through Napster Mobile is easy.
© Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

If you want to use Napster Mobile, the most important factor is picking a wireless provider and phone that'll give you the Napster services you want. Downloading music from Napster on cell phones requires having specific wireless providers and a compatible phone.

AT&T's Samsung SLM music phone, for example, allows direct access to Napster Mobile when you click the music key on the phone and hit "Shop Music." You can buy one song at a time or save 50 cents per track by subscribing to receive five tracks per month for $7.49 [source: AT&T].


But you'll need more than the basic phone to play music, no matter which wireless carrier you use. You'll also need a memory card for music storage, and you'll probably want a stereo headset, which may require installing software on your phone. AT&T offers a music bundle of headset and software CD for the Samsung for $40. Wireless Bluetooth stereo headphones start at $60 [source: AT&T Music Devices].

Compatible SunCom phones access Napster Mobile through the wireless carrier's Web link. Downloading songs costs $2 per track and includes a second free copy for your PC. Napster Mobile sends you an e-mail reminder to download that copy from your PC. While there's no charge for using Napster Mobile itself, SunCom charges for the Web link at rates of $5 per month for regional access, plus one cent roaming per KB (kilobyte); $20 per month national with no roaming fee; or one cent per KB access plus one cent roaming per KB under the Pay as You Go plan [source: SunCom Wireless].

For added services beyond just Napster Mobile, you may want to sign up for a Napster subscription plan or Napster to Go so that you can download songs on your PC and then transfer them to your mobile phone. Remember that, unless your wireless carrier offers PC downloads as part of your Napster Mobile plan, you can only play the Napster music you buy on your cell phone.

Cell phone users occasionally encounter problems with Napster Mobile, although most can be overcome fairly easily. Let's look next at what some of the problems are and how you can resolve them.


Problems with Napster Mobile

memory card
Mobile music players require a memory card.
© Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

Perhaps the biggest problem with Napster Mobile is that its functions are so closely tied to the wireless carrier you choose. Downloading music from Napster can only be done on some carriers' phones, and downloading songs from your cell phone to your PC depends on your carrier's plan.

Even at that, you can't transfer a song directly from your phone to your PC. Some carriers give you the option of having them send a song by phone as an e-mail attachment to your PC, while others allow you to buy the song and then you e-mail it to your PC. Either way, there's no direct phone-to-PC transfer [source: Napster Mobile].


Here are some other problems you may encounter along with possible solutions:

  • Inadequate storage for songs on your cell phone -- Get a memory card, or if you already have one, move up to one with more storage space.
  • Can't access songs bought with Napster Mobile on my PC -- To do that, you have to register with Napster, which just means going to Napster) and providing a user name, password and e-mail address.
  • Can't play iTunes tracks with Napster Mobile -- Each music provider uses different digital rights management (DRM) technology to protect the music's copyright and to prevent illegal distribution. Napster Mobile and iTunes use different, incompatible systems, so you won't be able to hear your iTunes tracks.

Napster and Ericsson have already begun to tap the burgeoning mobile music market with Napster Mobile. With an agreement with AT&T, the companies expected to make Napster Mobile available to 12 million AT&T phone users by summer 2008. Through separate agreements in early 2008, Napster and Ericsson made Napster Mobile available in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Chile and Italy, expanding its reach by millions of customers. And as Napster Mobile's geographic boundaries expand, its features and offerings are likely to grow, too [sources:, CNN, Ericsson and TMCNet].

For lots more information about Napster Mobile and related topics, check out the links on the next page.