The move by the nation's third-largest carrier follows similar decisions by competitors Sprint PCS and Nextel Communications. Java phones that can download software are seen as a way to create new revenue streams: Carriers can sell not only phones, but also games or applications such as those that let a phone access a corporate computer network.
American carriers with Java dreams are gunning for the same success that Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo had with its iAppli Java download service, regarded as the most popular download service in the world.
"There's evidence outside of the U.S. that a Java download service can catch on," said Jupiter Research wireless analyst Joe Laszlo.
But Java phones' high price tag, averaging about $200, and the reluctance of America's 140 million cell phone owners to do anything on a cell phone but make and receive calls, will hurt sales for now, he said.
According to the sources, AT&T Wireless will sell the Nokia 3590 by Sept. 30, for between $50 and $100. It will begin selling the Motorola T720, for about $300, by late December or early January, they said.
An AT&T Wireless representative declined to comment.
Nextel Communications was the first U.S. carrier to sell a Java phone,a Motorola model 18 months ago. It has since sold 2.3 million Java phones and now offers 110 games and business applications for download, a Nextel representative said Friday.
Sprint PCS recently began selling Java phones and software to download as part of its Sprint PCS Vision high-speed wireless Web plans. It now mainly sells games, such as next month's planned debut of a version of EA Sports' "Tiger Woods Golf."
Java is software developed by Sun Microsystems that lets programs run on a number of computing devices without having to be rewritten for each one. For example, the Java version of a video game running on a Motorola cell phone with an ARM microprocessor could run just as well on a BlackBerry pager from Research In Motion with a different chip.