Europe's mobile networks are keen to cash-in on digital music distribution services, with Virgin Mobile reportedly closing deals to offer music on its network.

Mobile operators hope to harness their existing micro-payment systems to enable such services on next-generation 3G phones. Virgin is expected to sell combined phone/music players from Nokia and Samsung and to first offer its service in the UK.

A report on Mobile Commerce World states: "The yet-to-be-named Virgin music service and the new handsets are designed to rival Apple's iTunes and its iPod portable music-player.

"Although Virgin has not set a price for the handsets, it intends to subsidize them, making them available at a far lower price than the iPod, which starts at £249," it says.

Virgin reportedly believes music could become an "overriding reason" for consumers to take 3G services. 3G services exploit Apple's QuickTime technology on which much of its iTunes Music Store is based.

A Virgin source said: "The market for music over the mobile phone networks will really take off when the download speed to the handset is reduced to less than a minute. This will be possible over 3G."

Other uses for 3G are also emerging; one recent report discusses BBC trials in which reporters are gathering movie footage using their 3G phone that is then broadcast on TV.

"3G phones are ideal for breaking news coverage: breaking news coverage well before satellite vehicle support arrives."