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FROM THIS EPISODE

On the Cellular Level

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

No question, we're in the midst of the technological wild west. Companies are prospecting hard to find consumers' interest on everything digital right now, to discover what really works for them.

Working within a lifestyle means everything these days.

And for most people, the cell phone is the most valued piece of equipment they carry. If the telephone companies have their way, the cell phone will also become your most treasured portal in mobile news and entertainment.

The worldwide ring-tone business alone generated $3.5 billion in revenue last year. Though the revenue from the US sector was much smaller, telecommunications companies are banking on the growth of cellular entertainment. Millions of dollars will be spent encouraging consumers to buy more sophisticated phone services. Most of the new offerings require upgrading your current cell phone to a more sophisticated phone and that's just where the escalating costs begin.

Once you've bought the new phone, the fun really begins. Sprint, Cingular, T-Mobile, and Verizon all offer extensive entertainment and each service is different. Choices include music and video downloads, streams from satellite companies like Sirius and Music Choice, along with television programming from CNN, The Weather Channel, ESPN, and financial news.

And if that weren't enough, there are plenty of options to consider when choosing ring tones. New ring tones go by different names, most often Super Ring Tones, Real Ring Tones and True Tones. These ring tones are derived from the original recordings and sound just like the songs you've always known.

You can modify your phone to ring with a particular song when your wife is calling, and a different song when it's your boss on the phone. Then there are ring back options, where you choose a song for callers to hear, instead of the institutional bell that the phone company has always delivered.

There are wall papers, screensavers, caller icons for your address book, games, movie trailers, and just about anything else you can think of that can be digitized and programmed.

For all companies, there's a monthly access fee for these special services. It's easy to spend upwards of $25 a month to add these components to your phone.

At the moment, the services are so complex that special instruction and technical support are required to get started. But in a few years, when competition has forced redesigns and product continuity, it's possible to see your cell phone becoming your primary mobile entertainment source.

And with those changes, just imagine how our discovery of music will continue to grow. The new spectrum brings vision to the forefront. From the handheld transistor radio to mobile music on demand, we will not be stopped in our pursuit of new vistas in entertainment.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat on KCRW.

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