The UK will see the first commercial launch of the BlackBerry wireless email service in Europe next month, with the Netherlands set to follow before the end of this year and other countries in 2002.

BlackBerry maker, the Canadian firm RIM (Research in Motion) said on Tuesday it has an agreement with mobile operator BT Cellnet to sell BlackBerry in the UK.

Memorandums of understanding have been signed with other European telcos.

"There will be more memorandums of understanding announced in the coming months. A major priority is to get Europe-wide roaming," said Tilly Quanger, a spokeswoman for RIM.

Operating on GPRS (general packet radio service) mobile networks, the BlackBerry devices — large pagers with a keyboard — will offer always-on connection to corporate email inboxes, with calendar and other functions following later. The offering in Europe will be limited for now to enterprise users.

In the UK BT Cellnet will offer the Enterprise Edition of BlackBerry for between £2,000 and £3,000 for server software and 20 user licences. The BlackBerry devices themselves are purchased separately, and will cost £400-£450. The GPRS service will cost £39 per user per month, according to Quanger. BT has committed to order 175,000 of the BlackBerry devices. So, initially, it is not cheap.

In North America, the devices and service are also sold to individual users.

The BlackBerry devices in Europe differ from those used in North America. In Europe, for example, the devices support Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME), which allows third parties to develop software to run on the device. With a software upgrade, the European device can also be turned into a mobile phone.

The European devices are not compatible with the ones used in North America, at least not until GPRS networks are rolled out there. Currently the devices in the US and Canada operate on so-called Mobitext networks run by wireless operators.

The BlackBerry Enterprise Edition is designed to work with corporate email systems. It currently supports Microsoft's Exchange, with support for Lotus's Domino planned for later this year.