Apple Computer will announce next week the European version of the iTunes online music store, according to sources.
The announcement will be made June 15, said sources familiar with the necessary licensing negotiations between Apple and music labels.
An Apple representative in Holland declined to comment. However, Apple issued a statement Monday that it will host a press conference in London on June 15. Apple billed the event: "The biggest story in music is about to get even bigger."
Traditionally when Apple announces a new product or service, it is available immediately, which means the service may go live next week.
Apple launched iTunes in the United States over a year ago, capturing a commanding lead in the nascent market for music downloads.
At its peak, Apple sold 3.3 million downloads in a single week and more than 70 million in its first year. In contrast, a collection of legal download services in Britain sold 500,000 between January and mid-May.
Unlike the United States, where Apple pioneered and effectively defined Internet music retailing, in Europe it will be entering a brutally competitive market, which was opened up by Microsoft over the past two years.
In addition, Roxio launched Napster in Britain last month, and Sony said it will launch its Connect store in Britain, Germany and France by the end of June.
Apple will also face Europe's most established download provider, OD2, which has three dozen retail partners including Microsoft's MSN and Coca-Cola.
Analysts, however, expect Apple to catch rivals quickly in Europe.
"iPods are just selling through the roof. To launch on top of that, I should think it will do well for them over here," said Simon Dyson, an analyst with London-based Informa Media.
The iPod is the only available portable music player that plays songs from the iTunes music store.