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Vodafone Live! Is Dead!

When the going gets tough, the tough revamp their online services strategy and give it a new name. In the case of Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), it's moving on from its Live! Services offering to a new, more Web 2.0-based package called Vodafone 360 that will be rolled out during the next few months. (See Vodafone Goes 360.)

In a nutshell, Vodafone says 360:

    ...gathers all of a customer's friends, communities, entertainment and personal favourites (like music, games, photos and video) in one place... has the most personal address book available, bringing together all of the contacts from the mobile phone, social networks and other internet accounts. It works across a range of mobile phones, including the new, exclusive Vodafone 360 phones, and synchs automatically with the PC... [and includes a] new suite of internet services accessible on multiple handsets as well as PC or Mac, including a wide range of apps, games, music and mapping services.
And, as apps are hot, Vodafone is including "a catalogue" of more than 1,000 applications as part of the launch, all downloadable from the Vodafone online store.

CCS Insight analyst Paolo Pescatore says the mobile operator is "looking to take back the ground it's lost to the likes of Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) in the mobile Internet land grab. It's a radical shift compared with what Vodafone has been offering so far. The shift is towards more of a Web 2.0-based architecture." (See Nokia Unveils Ovi APIs, SDK and Nokia Adds Facebook as Friend.)

The analyst believes Vodafone's development has been built on the foundations of two acquisitions: Wayfinder and ZYB. (See Vodafone Snags Wayfinder and Vodafone Buys ZYB.)

"It's based on two key items: A focus on people, which comes from the ZYB acquisition, and a focus on location, from Wayfinder. And it's opened up its API [application programming interface] to developers for that," notes Pescatore.

At the heart of the offering is the customer's address books, and that's a smart move, reckons the CCS man: "By aggregating address books, it's creating significant value. Google already does this, and Nokia has been trying, and the carriers haven't done a very good job so far. It's probably the first operator to integrate communications between the mobile device and the PC, something that Nokia has been preaching for quite a while."

He continues: "Vodafone is looking to regain leadership by doing this, having lost some ground in the past one or two years after the Live! launch. And you can see it's been focused on developing this -- this isn't something it could turn around in six weeks. This is a sophisticated development."

So a bold move, but "the big question is, how will Vodafone monetize this? I think this is only the beginning, and that we'll see a lot more business models come from Vodafone based around 360. This is the start of a long journey," concludes Pescatore in storybook fashion before disappearing to the nearest Italian coffee bar.

So what happens next? Well, 360 will launch this year in Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the U.K., followed in 2010 by India, Turkey, South Africa, New Zealand, and Romania. It will launch in France through SFR , through Mobile TeleSystems OJSC (MTS) (NYSE: MBT) in Russia, and through Vodafone Hutchison Australia.

The "full Vodafone 360 experience" will be available on "two exclusive handsets built to Vodafone's specification" by Samsung Corp. -- the Vodafone 360 H1 and another as yet unidentified Samsung device.

In addition, "four Nokia Symbian smartphones will come pre-loaded with Vodafone 360, and part or all of the service will be downloadable to over 100 popular phones."

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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