Phones Could Take P2P Legit
By Eric Lin, Wed Oct 15 20:30:00 GMT 2003

Bertelsmann and Warner Music have announced they will begin to offer music clips via a new p2p service from Beep Science. The service, exclusively for mobile phones, allows peers to trade files, but requires a central server to unlock them before they can be used.

P2P has a long standing bad rap, but lately it's been getting good attention as a viable distribution system. First Ashley Highfield promoted p2p as a viable means to distribute the BBC's archive, once they go online. Now Beep Science has developed a method by which we can trade music files (though since all the press talks about music clips, we assume this means polyphonic ringtones) and the publishers can still get the control and money they demand.

Beep Science's distribution system is based on standards developed by the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA). The technology, called superdistribution, works rather simply: users receive a tune as an MMS either from a music service or directly from a friend. However in order to play the song, it must be unlocked on the handset from a central server.

By allowing users to share songs, companies get access to viral distribution which is cheaper and often more effective than a central access point. Mobile users are already accustomed to paying for content, so creating a p2p system that still charges will be met with little resistance, making publishers happy without upsetting users too much.

The remaining question is whether peers really are viable distribution chain, especially on mobile phones. Traditional p2p is not just trading amongst known peers, but across all searchable nodes on a network. The actual networks of users will be smaller on mobiles, since users will only share with their contacts. Money will also limit the number of users who choose to share since not only will they have to pay to unlock the tune, but also to send it as an MMS. The tunes will have to have be make the sender seem awfully cool in order to overcome the cost of sending them.