Sky has announced it is to launch a "ground breaking, easy and affordable" new service enabling UK and Irish consumers to access music online.

The new service will mean that, for a monthly subscription, music fans can listen to songs on an on-demand, streaming basis and download tracks to listen to later and "to own forever".

With a range of subscriptions due to be offered, Sky says downloaded tracks will work on any MP3-compatible fixed or portable device, including iPods, MP3 players and mobile phones, which suggests the songs will be DRM-free.

Universal Music Group is the first of the big four labels to confirm its participation in the service, which will offer digital access to hundreds of thousands of songs from Universal Music artists.

Sky is in discussions with other music companies, both majors and independents, and expects to announce further partners soon with the service scheduled to launch later on this year with all details to be confirmed then.