Vodafone bullish on mobile future

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Vodafone says it will launch new generation mobile phone services across its global operations within a matter of weeks.

The group gave details as it sought to persuade analysts that its future prospects are bright – and not reflected in its recently suffering share price.

Vodafone told them it had about 80 million customers – with one in four of the world’s mobile phone users connected to a network in which the company has a holding.

It said that the only doubt over the launch of the full commercial service using GPRS (general packet radio service) mobiles was that it did not have enough handsets yet.

Deals have been signed with a number of handset makers, with a range of phones and handheld palm-top devices coming firstly from Samsung, Motorola, Sagem and Trium.

A further range of up to 30 devices will be on sale by September, with Vodafone keen to have further functions, such as colour displays.

“Vodafone’s experience in Japan is that the next generation of services will only become successful if the new generation of mobile devices are attractive to the user,” it said.

GPRS allows data to be transferred at speeds as fast as standard personal computers and is often known as 2.5G, the forerunner of the all-singing all-dancing third generation mobiles. The system is always-on – in other words there are no long waits to dial into the internet network.

The company already has GPRS systems operating in New Zealand, Germany, Sweden and Portugal, with the rest of its operations to have commercial operations by June.

Among other changes being planned is to create a single Vodafone brand across all its markets during 2002, with the goal of making it one of the world’s most valuable brand names by 2004.

Vodafone said that by December, data services, led by text messages, accounted for 9% of revenues in Europe and 12.5% in Japan. SMS is only now being introduced in the US.

Vodafone’s Airtel in Spain is due to launch its 3G network in the third quarter of this year with other markets expected to follow in 2002, the company said.

The firm said the 37 million customers who use text messages and other data services had doubled their monthly spend to seven euros, with further growth likely to follow, based on the Japanese experience.

The company said it aimed to have 2 million customers by June this year for its Vizzavi Europe joint venture with Vivendi Universal.  It says that 1.6 billion euros will be invested by the end of 2002, with break-even expected to reached by the end of 2003.

But Vodafone’s shares slid during morning trade in London, from 210p to 202.5p, as concerns remained about prospects for the sector as a whole.