Vodafone has launched its Vodafone live mobile internet service in UK and five other European countries today.

The service, which operates on Vodafone's GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks, is entertainment-oriented with such features as chat, downloadable ring tones and games, but also offers access to email and information services such as financial news, through content partners.

"Vodafone live is targeted at the consumer," said André van der Elsen, CQ, a spokesman for Vodafone in the Netherlands.

This move comes hot on the heels of Orange's announcement of its Microsoft Smartphone-based SPV on Tuesday, and signals the trend from all mobile operators to push data services, in order to gain more revenue from existing customers.

As handset sales to new customers remain stagnant throughout most of Western Europe, operators have to find other ways to keep their finances in the black and benefit from the investment they have made in next generation technology like GPRS.

Three handsets supporting the service will be available initially; the Sharp GX 10, Nokia 7650 (pictured) and the Panasonic GD 87. All handsets have colour screens and polyphonic ring tones. But only the Sharp and the Nokia handsets support download of Java games.

Vodafone live, introduced in the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Ireland and the Netherlands today, will also be launched in Portugal, Sweden and Greece before the end of the year with Australia and New Zealand following in early 2003, according to the Vodafone statement.

Pricing for the mobile internet service is per kilobyte of data transferred, with no subscription cost. In the Netherlands, one kilobyte costs €0.0244, which comes to €25 (£16) per megabyte of data transferred. Mobile service subscribers, but not prepay customers, can also buy data bundles starting at €5 (£3) for 250 kilobytes.

Pricing for the service in the UK was is available yet. Handset pricing varies depending on what mobile subscription a user buys.