Verizon Wireless Cranks Broadband Music

Verizon Wireless has turned up the volume for its music-service offerings, announcing a new broadband service Thursday that it said will expand how customers can access and listen to their tunes.

Set to debut Jan. 16, “V CAST Music” will offer wireless downloads from a bank of 500,000 music titles initially, plus a few added features intended to trump competitors such as Apple Computer Inc.’s “iTunes” or Sprint Nextel Corp.’s “Sprint Music Store.” Those include a feature that allows customers to transfer digital MP3 or “Windows Media Audio” music files they already own to their handsets.

Technologywise, V CAST Music will also be the first service to use Microsoft Corp.’s “Windows Media 10” -- the latest streaming-media codec recently released by the software giant -- and the first to use Microsoft’s “Windows Digital Rights Management” scheme.

Like other V CAST offerings, the music service will be fielded on Verizon Wireless’ third-generation “Evolution Data Optimized” network, which is now up and running in 180 major U.S. markets. EV-DO offers downstream data rates averaging between 400 and 700 kilobits per second, with higher bursts of speed possible.

V CAST Music will offer a library of more than 500,000 titles, with plans to double that within 90 days, according to Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson. Verizon Wireless has struck distribution deals with the “Big Four” record labels -- Warner Music Group, Sony-BMG Music Entertainment, EMI Group and Universal Music Group -- as well as for a slew of music files from independent music aggregator The Orchard.

Customers will pay $1.99 for V CAST Music titles, which includes two copies -- one sent automatically to the phone over the cellular network and the other sent via e-mail to the customer’s PC for storage in a home music database.

The version sent to the handset will be lighter in file size and audio quality, while the PC version will be a heftier file with richer audio sound. Sprint Music Store uses a similar dual-version-distribution strategy.

Customers also can buy the same titles for download to the PC at only 99 cents apiece, with the right to transfer that content to their mobile phone on their own.

To store the music downloads, Verizon Wireless is offering 500-kilobit and 1-megabit secure digital-memory cards, with the latter able to hold 250 or more songs. Shortly after the service launches, a 2-MB card will be added.