Vodafone formally launched its own version of a wireless "push" email service today, with plans to roll it out across Europe by the end of the year.

Though the company said that the service will complement the offerings it already has in partnership with Research In Motion on its BlackBerry wireless device, the move is also a direct competitive challenge to the market-dominant BlackBerry.

"We see it as increasing the market for push as whole," said Vodafone spokesman Jon Earl. "BlackBerry is very popular with our customers, but now we have an alternative option for those who, for whatever reason, want to use another device. It is about choice."

In the past, users have had to check their mailbox periodically and then "pull" new mail from the server to their handset. In a "push" email service, the server notifies the handset automatically as soon as new mail is available, and then pushes the message out to the handset.

Due in part to its ease of use, Vodafone hopes push email will rival the popularity of voice calls and SMS (Short Message Service) and in time become the sort of cash cows those services have proven to be.

Vodafone Spain launched the service on Thursday and additional European countries, including the U.K., will be offered push e-mail by the end of 2005, Earl said. He declined to give a time line for specific launch dates.

As Vodafone introduces its push e-mail service throughout Europe, it will offer support for the Vodafone v1620, Motorola Inc.'s MPx220, Nokia Corp.'s 6630 and the P910i from Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB. Additional devices that support push e-mail functionality will also be introduced this year, the company said.