Online music service Napster has signed a deal with Ericsson, the world's largest cell phone network supplier, to develop a version of the Napster service that can deliver songs to cell phones. The two companies expect mobile carriers to begin offering Napster-branded phones worldwide by the end of the year.
 
  "It is increasingly likely the mobile handset will be the portable music device of the future," a Napster spokesperson said. Many analysts agree: Although most users today enjoy digital music on PCs and portable MP3 players such as Apple Computer's iPod, the cell phone market is increasingly seen as the future of PDAs, consumer-grade digital cameras, and MP3 players. And because cell phones already include pervasive wireless features, they're a natural for acquiring digital content and don't require a PC or complicated desktop software.
  
Ericsson will offer the Napster cell phone service to mobile carriers in the same way that existing services, such as text messaging and voice mail, are offered today. Unlike Apple's deal with Motorola last year, which paved the way for Apple iTunes Music Store customers to transfer their music to certain cell phones, the Napster/Ericsson deal has the potential to affect a wide range of mobile carriers, and thus a much wider range of users worldwide.
  
The Ericsson deal isn't Napster's first foray into the cell phone market. Last month, Napster launched a service called Napstertones that provides more than 100,000 cell phone ring tones directly to handsets. Napstertones, interestingly, cost $2 to $3 or two to three times the cost of full-length songs sold through the regular Napster service.


Correction: This report originally noted that Ericsson was the world's largest cell phone maker. That is incorrect: Ericsson is the world's largest cell phone network supplier. I apologize to the 6 Nokia fans out there who apparently lost sleep over the error. --Paul