Services will fuel growth, say Vodafone

Users can look forward to a future of innovative wireless services which offer value and are easy to use, claimed Thomas Geitner,...

Users can look forward to a future of innovative wireless services which offer value and are easy to use, claimed Thomas Geitner, a board member of Vodafone.

"Technology alone doesn't sell," Geitner told the European Telecommunication Market conference in Germany.

"We learned that lesson with WAP and GPRS. What the mobile industry needs to continue growing are compelling, easy-to-use and attractively priced services."

Geitner is practising what he preaches. The Vodafone board member, who is responsible for global products and services, headed the team that developed Live!, a new entertainment and information-oriented service which features MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), chat, downloadable ring tones and games, as well as access to e-mail and information services such as financial news through content partners.

At the end of May, after its launch in October, Live! had more than 1.5 million customers, generating on average 12% more average revenue per user than voice-centric GSM customers, according to Geitner.

"No service at Vodafone has won as many customers and generated as much revenue as quickly as Live!," he said.

The focus on service, though, will require some changes - a major one being the relationship between operator and handset manufacturer, he said.

"In this new era of services, handsets are gateways to network services," he said. "Increasingly, operators will require devices that have specific functions and user interfaces for customers to access and use network services more easily. Such is the case with the handsets we launched with Live! And this is only the beginning."

In the future, Vodafone plans to become active much sooner in the development of new handsets to help co-ordinate their functionality with network services and content, according to the board member.
Although Vodafone intends to continue working with Nokia will do so in line with its gateway strategy, according to Geitner.

"We're going to see more handsets coming from the same manufacturers that look different because of operators' individual requirements," he said. "The relationship between operators and handset manufacturers is going to change dramatically."

Vodafone also aims to work closely with Microsoft in the area of its Office applications but has no plans at present to use its wireless operating system.

In October, rival Orange launched the world's first mobile phone running Microsoft Windows-powered Smartphone 2002 software.

Another change will be in the area of standards for content.

"Standards offer security for content providers," Geitner said. "Content providers will invest in mobile content in a big way only if they are ensured sufficient copyright protection and a secure billing platform."

Vodafone is active in the area of DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology for mobile content, he said.

The operator is also a founding member of the Mobile Payment Services Association (MPSA), an initiative focusing on two areas: establishing a new payment scheme that will allow mobile phone customers to make low-priced purchases through mobile operator-managed accounts; and creating an easier, more secure way to make both smaller and larger purchases using mobile phones together with credit and debit cards.

Other members include France's Orange,  Spain's Telefónica Móviles and Germany's T-Mobile International.

"We expect to see the first results of this initiative by the end of this year," Geitner said.

In less than 15 years, more than 50% of the population in the industrialised world uses a mobile phone. In China last year, mobile operators registered an average five million new customers each month.

"But to create more growth, we will need to create new demand, and this will require new services that offer customers true benefits and that they are willing to pay for," he said. "Indeed, service - not technology - will be our biggest challenge."

John Blau writes for IDG News Service

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