A French mobile phone operator will cut the price of its music downloads in half next month to match those charged by iTunes.

From 7 November, Société Française du Radiotéléphone SA (SFR) will charge €0.99 per track, compared to €1.99 today. Additional charges apply if the track is downloaded over the air to a mobile phone, rather than over a fixed internet connection to a PC.

It's no coincidence that the new price matches that of the iTunes Store in Europe, said SFR spokeswoman Caroline Mir.

Apple's price "is the reference price today", she said. "This is the first time that this price has been offered on a mobile service," she added.

SFR even plans to undercut Apple's price, offering complete albums for €9.90, compared to Apple's price of €9.99, or a pack of up to 20 downloads a month for €14.90, bringing the price per track down to €0.75. The tracks, in AAC+ format, will play on 3G (third generation) mobiles or on PCs, Mir said. A DRM (digital rights management) copy prevention system allows buyers to burn the tracks to CD a maximum of five times.

Rival network operator Orange charges €2 per track, plus airtime, for its music download service in France.

SFR's subscribers currently download 300,000 music tracks per month, Mir said. The company hopes the lower price will push music downloads to one million tracks a month next year, helped by growth in the adoption and deployment of 3G service.

The company had 1.5 million 3G subscribers at the end of August, and hopes to have 2.5 million by the end of the year, Mir said.

Advances in technology could help boost demand for mobile music services, by cutting the cost of the airtime used to download the track.

SFR charges €0.10 per minute for access to the music download service, but the time it takes to download a track varies with the mobile phone technology used. With GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), it can take several minutes to download a track, to the point where the airtime charges could exceed the cost of the music. 3G brings that down to around 1.5 minutes to download a track, Mir said, while 3G+, SFR's name for the HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) technology used in its latest mobile phones, will cut the time taken to download a music track to around 20 seconds.