T-Mobile has decided to set music streaming services free.
The “Un-carrier” said it will offer subscribers unlimited access to the top six music streaming services including Pandora, Slacker, iHeart Radio and Spotify without incurring data charges on their 4G plans. Samsung’s Milk Music and the forthcoming Beatport music app from SFX will also be offered to customers free of data charges.
The announcement recognizes the growing popularity of streaming music as well as the fact consumers have a tough time knowing how much data such services will use.
Consumers increasingly are tuning in Spotify and other music services to listen to millions of songs on demand. Global revenue from music subscription services exceeded $1 billion for the first time last year, according to the IFPI, the music industry’s international trade group.
T-Mobile cited the results of a CivicScience poll in which 37 percent of mobile phone users said they avoid streaming on their phones — the majority out of fear that they’ll use up their data and run into overages.
“We want people to enjoy their music worry-free — the way it’s meant to be,” T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Mike Sievert said in a statement.
Some in the music industry expressed skepticism that data limits are restricting mobile consumption, noting that songs don’t take up as much data as video — and most consumers tend to use Wi-Fi for such services.
The music news followed T-Mobile’s earlier announcement of a weeklong iPhone Test Drive, with both moves coming at the company’s “Un-carrier 5.0″ event in Seattle.
Update: Legere said that rivals charge for every note a customer plays — even the ads.
“Freedom means that every single note from right now will come free and not against your bucket,” he said. “Even when you exhaust your high-speed data bucket, you will still stream music free at a high speed.”
The music services being offered free account for 85 percent of music being streamed on T-Mobile’s network, Sievert said.
“We’re doing it for one simple reason,” Sievert said. “Our network can handle it.”
The company plans to expand to other music services and is letting customers vote for which service they want.
Meanwhile, for customers on its unlimited high-speed data plans — who already have all-you-can-eat data — T-Mobile is launching a new Internet radio service in partnership with Rhapsody, known as Rhapsody unRadio. It’s free for those customers and $4 for other T-Mobile customers. The service is ad-free and allows unlimited skips.
(Here’s more from Peter Kafka on that service.)
As to what he will do if competitors match some of T-Mobile’s offers, Legere said he had two responses.
“I don’t give a shit and I’ll celebrate because we’ve changed the industry,” Legere said.
6:55 pm PT: With that, Legere started taking questions from the media in the audience. Asked why the test-drive program is Apple-only, Legere noted that lots of people don’t yet know T-Mobile has the iPhone. “Apple is also interested in the fact that the fastest-growing wireless carrier in the U.S. has a low penetration of their product.”
When questioned whether giving away music from certain services raises net neutrality issues, Legere said, “I don’t agree.”
Sievert added that with the exception of the Rhapsody service, there is no commercial relationship with the other music services. (There is some technical work being done to ensure the streaming is being offered free, he said.)
7:00 pm PT: As to whether T-Mobile might offer any video services free, Legere noted that video uses a lot more bandwidth than audio.
“One step at a time,” he said.