Vodafone has begun offering new fees and features to stir demand for mobile Internet services as competition hits the company's profits from voice services.
The group's operations in the UK and Germany have new mobile data offerings, and subsidiaries in other markets are planning customised packages of their own, according to Vodafone Group spokesman Mark Street.
"Pricing for these new mobile Internet services will be on a market by market basis, and it will be up to each market to decide on features," Street said. "But what I can say is that as a group, we're looking at prices that are predictable and transparent, and services that offer value for their money."
The move comes as Vodafone, which has been facing tough competition from low-cost mobile phone operators, seeks new revenue streams to offset falling income from its traditional cash-cow voice service. It's also been prompted by mobile Internet services such as T-Mobile's Web n' Walk, designed for quick, easy and competitively priced mobile phone surfing.
As of July 15, Vodafone customers in Germany can subscribe to the new mobile Internet service, called "Handy 2.0," available for a flat monthly fee of €9.95 (£6.76).
The service uses the open-source Opera mobile phone browser, which formats content for easy viewing on small displays, according to Vodafone D2 spokeswoman Bettina Donges.
"Handy 2.0 will be like a PC experience," Donges said. "You'll be able to surf all around the Net with your mobile phone, the pages will be compiled fast and they'll be easy to read."
The new flat-rate Internet offering, however, doesn't apply to VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) applications. Vodafone will not support mobile VOIP service until it can guarantee quality service, Street said.
In addition, Vodafone has struck Internet partnerships with eBay, Google, YouTube and MySpace.com to provide services specially tailored for mobile phones.
Customers access the Internet service through the Vodafone Live mobile portal. The portal service is included in the various bundled minute packages available from the German operator.
Initially, several handsets, including the Nokia N73 and N95, the Motorola V3 and V980 and the Samsung Zv60 and D900i, will support the Handy 2.0 service, but other phones will be added over time.
In the UK, Vodafone is launching a similar service that takes Web pages designed for PCs and makes them easy to read on handsets. The Vodafone Mobile Internet offerings also includes partnerships with eBay, Google, YouTube and MySpace as well as Yahoo Inc.
Analysts see a couple of advantages to the partnerships.
By collaborating with these brands, Vodafone not only gives customers a better experience of using their Internet services on their phones but will also benefit from advertising revenue opportunities, according to John Delaney, principal analyst at Ovum Ltd.
One slight difference between the German and UK offering is the price: UK customers who sign up for a data pack pay £7.50 per month for 120 Mbyte of data, which is equivalent to four hours of viewing YouTube or up to 160 mobile Internet pages every day for a month.
Other customers are charged per kilobyte, up to a £1 per day for 500 kbyte, with no additional charge unless the day's usage exceeds 15 Mbyte.
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