Vodafone's Data Use Drags

Vodafone Group plc's (NYSE: VOD) long-stated ambition to generate 25 percent of revenue from data applications by 2005 appears an increasingly unrealistic target following disappointing growth in this area over the past three months (see Vodafone Ups Customer Base).

Despite adding three million new customers to its subscriber base since the end of March this year, revenue from data has risen by a mere 0.4 percent to 15 percent of overall income.

Such figures reflect continued disappointment in data revenue growth. Today’s number is only a 1 percent improvement on last year’s June figure of 14 percent and leaves the carrier trailing European rivals. Last week mmO2 plc claimed data revenue results of 18.2 percent (see mmO2 Touts Q2 Growth).

Analysts are dubious of Vodafone's aspirations. “We don’t see the levels being suggested as realistic,” comments Phil Kendall, director of global wireless at Strategy Analytics Inc. “We expect it to be a long way short of the 25 percent mark -- that is far too optimistic. 2007 would be a more likely timeframe.”

“SMS [text messaging] is still making up the bulk of data revenues, and until MMS [picture messaging] becomes a mass consumer service it will be difficult to boost this figure,” adds Paolo Pescatore, senior analyst at IDC. “Everything needs to come together: Users need to be educated, the handsets need to be available, and the pricing needs to be fair.”

Outgoing CEO Sir Christopher Gent was naturally keen to divert attention away from the potential effects of the slow growth in data revenue, instead focusing on subscriber gains. “These figures demonstrate continued strong operational performance and are in line with, or slightly better than, our expectations,” he declared in a statement.

The announcement of today’s quarterly figures marks the end of Gent’s six-and-a-half year tenure as chief executive. He is to be replaced later this week by former AirTouch Communications COO Arun Sarin, following Vodafone's annual general meeting on Wednesday (see Vodafone Names New CEO).

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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