US mobile operator Cricket Communications has announced that its Muve Music service reached 1.1m subscribers by the end of 2012, putting it right up there with Spotify and Rhapsody in the US music subscriptions market.

The operator has been pushing its unlimited-downloads service by including it in all its tariffs for Android smartphones, bundling the subscription in with voice minutes, texts and mobile data.

Muve Music’s growth is encouraging for the music industry. The service launched in January 2011, and reached 200k subscribers by September that year. It passed the 500k milestone in January 2012 and 700k by the end of September 2012 – the month Muve Music was rolled into all Cricket’s Android tariffs.

So, it signed up around 42k users a month in its first year, dropped to 22k a month for the next nine months, but then leapt to 133k a month in the final quarter of 2012.

Music rightsholders like Muve Music because it’s appealing to people with lower incomes who (it’s thought) are less likely to be buying digital music already. Cricket, meanwhile, likes it as a way to create loyalty among those customers and prevent them churning to other, larger operators.

So what now? At the end of September, Cricket had around 5.6m customers, so while there’s more room to grow Muve Music, it’s still one small operator. Cricket has made noises in the past about taking Muve Music to other operators and countries, and its success in the US should increase the prospects of that happening in 2013.

That said, we sense other operators around the world will be sitting down for a serious think about making their own Muve Music-style services too, with the encouragement of rightsholders.