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Mercora To Debut Mobile Music Service

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mercora Inc., which distributes software for webcasting music, is making a bid for the bourgeoning mobile music market with a new application that enables users of select wireless devices to listen to tracks stored on PCs or other users' computers.

The Santa Clara-based firm was to debut the service, dubbed Mercora M, on Monday.

Listening to full-length music tracks on mobile devices now generally takes two forms: sideloading — transferring music from a computer to capable handsets — or downloading a track over a high-speed wireless data connection directly to the device.

Such tracks either play as they download, also known as streaming, or download into the mobile device's memory for later playback.

The Mercora service works by streaming songs from a user's music library on their computer to select mobile phones or handheld PCs.

It also allows users to stream tracks broadcast on thousands of Internet radio channels, and eventually, songs from up to five other Mercora users, the company said.

The service requires that users install the Mercora software on a computer running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system. Only mobile devices running the Windows Mobile 5.0 software will work with the service.

At launch, Mercora M will be free through Oct. 31, after which the company will charge $4.99 a month. The company was also offering a 12-month subscription for $49.99 and a two-year subscription for $99.99.

The service launch comes at a time when major wireless carriers and digital music services are increasingly making audio and video content available to mobile customers. Services sometimes charge fees, but in many cases, the content is ad-supported.

In the U.S., about 17 percent of mobile phone customers use their phones to send pictures, listen to audio, play games and browse the Web, said Charles Golvin, a mobile market analyst for Forrester Research.

"The trend is very much in this direction," Golvin said. "Two years ago, it was only about 6 percent."

As the number of mobile devices-turned-music players has grown, some people have begun to see the devices as potential rivals to standard digital music players, such as Apple Computer Inc.'s iPods.

Mercora's mobile service is the most aggressive service yet capable of blurring the line between phone and portable music player, suggested Rob Enderle, an analyst for the Enderle Group.

"The Mercora M represents the next big step in mobile music enjoyment," Enderle added.

Mobile music services that rely on streaming data, however, face potential drawbacks because sometimes the spotty wireless service can interrupt playback, Golvin said. That could dissuade some mobile customers from using services such as Mercora and, instead, they might opt for sideloading music to their handsets.

"It's not unfathomable that consumers would download such an application and use it," Golvin said of Mercora M. "(But) MP3 players are being built into lots and lots of phones. Once you have the music on your phone, there are no playback issues."