T-Mobile game changer: Unlimited data for music

music freedom 638w

In its “Uncarrier” event in Seattle last night, wireless company T-Mobile announced a change to its cell-phone service plans that potentially impacts how consumers choose their telecom providers, music services, and even cars. The company’s mobile phone plans with data caps will recognize certain music services flowing through the bandwidth, and stop counting data for those services. In other words, unlimited music streaming for “major” music services, regardless of the plan’s data cap.

The initiative is branded Music Freedom.

Music services bundled into the roll-out include Pandora, Rhapsody, Slacker, iTunes Radio, Spotify, and iHeartRadio. Music services not included in Music Freedom certainly have reason to feel affronted, and we might see the selection grow over time, just as music services jockey for distribution deals on digital dashboards in new cars.

Data plans and streaming music intersect in many consumers’ minds, as music listening becomes ever more a mobile activity conveyed by smartphones. One of the most prominent marketing points of NextRadio, an FM receiver app that works in phones with activated FM chips, is that it delivers audio without eating into the phone’s data plan. Similarly, on-demand services like Spotify and Rhapsody pitch consumers on the value of paying $10 each month to download music for offline (no-data) listening.

T-Mobile also announced a new partnership with Rhapsody, and the introduction of Rhapsody-branded unRadio, an ad-free listening and music-saving plan that t-Mobile customers will get free of charge. (See our review of unRadio here.)

“Free of charge” can mean several things in an era when consumers must evaluate dozens of content choices across all mediums (e.g. music, TV, movies, books). In making those choices, potential customers balance paying for content with paying for the delivery mechanism of that content. That line can be blurry, but nowhere is it more distinct than with Internet-delivered music on a mobile phone, which can gobble data quickly. In that value equation, paying for the data can be an equal consideration to paying for the music.

T-Mobile changes the game by solving that equation: No data counting for highly recognized services, and totally free lean-back listening with unRadio, which doesn’t interrupt the music with ads. The Rhapsody arrangement is especially potent, and represents a remarkable unlimited music-streaming scenario over cellular data at a low fixed cost.

It is fair to imagine that this package could be a killer combination that might help retain existing T-Mobile customers and attract new ones.

Brad Hill