Orange and Vodafone in spat over market leadership claims

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Orange yesterday maintained its lead over Vodafone as the UK's biggest mobile phone operator while calling for the industry to use the same definitions for so-called 'active' customers.

The move came as France Telecom, Orange's parent, said the German utility E.ON planned to place 103 million Orange shares on the market after 26 February.

Orange, which overtook Vodafone as Britain's biggest operator in September, said it won 206,000 new subscribers in the final quarter of last year, boosting its UK base to 12.4 million.

Vodafone, meanwhile, won 365,000 new UK customers in the final three months of 2001, boosting its total number of customers to 13.2 million.

Included in that total figure, however, are about 2.1 million so-called 'inactive' users, which, when removed, reduces Vodafone's customer base to about 11.1 million.

Orange, which does not include 'inactive' users in its calculations, said yesterday it planned to press for a common, industry wide definition of active customers.

It said that were it to use the industry's current definition of an active customer, it could add another 656,000 users to its 12.4 million UK customer base.

Graham Howe, Orange's deputy chief executive and finance director, said: "I thought about using the industry definition but it just didn't make sense because you add in customers you know are inactive. I'm not saying the Orange definition is the perfect one but I think we need to get a group together to figure out what the industry definition should be."

A spokesperson for Vodafone said it believed it was still the UK's biggest mobile phone operator in terms of both revenue and profits and noted that the industry was now more focused on 'average revenues per user', known in the industry as Arpu.

Vodafone, which has 99.9 million customers worldwide, yesterday reported an Arpu of £274 in 2001. The monthly figure, however, fell to £21 in December from £23 in October and November.