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Java to hook up with Vodafone's 3G network

European carrier plans to launch next-generation wireless broadband network and taps Sun for the downloading platform.

Sun Microsystems' cell phone software is being prepped to help pick up the pace of Vodafone's high-speed wireless network in Europe.

At the JavaOne developer conference in San Francisco on Monday, the two companies unveiled plans for Project Vodafone VFX, a set of specifications and developer tools to enhance Vodafone's 3G services. The project is one of the first attempts to better acquaint Sun's Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) software with wireless networks that operate between 500 kilobits per second and 2.4 megabits per second, said Sun Vice President Alan Brenner.

More than 7.5 million Vodafone subscribers already buy software downloads like ring tones or games using J2ME software. Vodafone now wants its download service, known as Vodafone Live, to take advantage of the much faster third-generation UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) wireless network. The companies did not reveal when the set of specifications and developer tools would be launched.

Broadband-like speeds make it possible to offer wireless customers new and more complex services such as watching live television or downloading entire albums of music on a phone. Carriers are turning to such data-oriented offerings as competition continues to force them to lower the price of voice calls, their main product.

"The phone's capabilities are expanding. The network capabilities are expanding," Brenner said. "There's a growing energy in the industry to provide more support to developers and to manufactures."

Any slip-ups in the process of prepping J2ME for 3G could provide room for Qualcomm and other rivals to step in.

Vodafone considers Sun and its Java software language as the "core platform and Sun as the prime vendor to help us build," according to Guy Laurence, global marketing director at Vodafone. The company's 3G network, launched in February, is now available in Spain, Germany and other markets.

Project VFX is Sun's second deal in a week with a European carrier. Last week, Orange and T-Mobile Europe said they will soon require that downloadable games and other data sold to their subscribers meet quality standards set by Sun and several major handset makers.