Vodafone in link with Independent to offer news over mobile telephones

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The Independent Online

VODAFONE AIRTOUCH is linking with Independent News & Media, the company which owns The Independent, to launch a new generation of Internet services for mobile phones.

VODAFONE AIRTOUCH is linking with Independent News & Media, the company which owns The Independent, to launch a new generation of Internet services for mobile phones.

Under the agreement, Independent News will provide Vodafone mobile customers with news and other information services, while Vodafone Value Added Services ("Vads") will provide Short Message Service (SMS) delivery and billing facilities.

Brendan Hopkins, the chief executive of Independent News & Media (UK), said the company had developed the software for the new service in South Africa, "which is six months ahead of the rest of the world in terms of mobile phone technology". The company is also planning to roll out the new service in Australia and New Zealand.

The services offered will include news and sport, weather and live share information. For instance, when booking theatre tickets, customers will be able to see a plan of the theatre, choose where to sit and pay for the tickets, all over their mobile, said Mr Hopkins. "It represents the next development in the Internet, from e-commerce to m-commerce, mobile commerce," he added.

Vodafone and Independent News together have 30 million print readers and around 10 million mobile phone customers in the four countries covered by the new service.

The provision of information services to mobiles is growing rapidly, along with the use of SMS services by mobile phone users. In the last year, the number of SMS messages delivered by Vodafone in the UK passed 50 million.

The launch comes at a time of explosive growth in mobile take-up generally in the UK. A record 2.7 million Britons bought mobile phones during the third quarter ending 30 September.

Chris Godsmark, an analyst at Investec Henderson Crosthwaite, forecasts that over 4.5 million Britons - or nearly one person in 12 in the UK - will buy a mobile between now and Christmas.

Christopher Gent, chief executive of Vodafone AirTouch, said: "By creating partnerships such as this we will be able to develop personal wireless and multimedia applications which we can deliver to mobile customers around the world."

Mr Gent is convinced that traditional phone companies face a highly uncertain future as mobile usage climbs. And interactive services are seen as the next phase of growth. Mr Gent added: "These types of services represent an enormous market opportunity and should develop rapidly in order to meet the increasing expectations and demands of mobile customers."

Until recently, industry experts predicted the expansion of mobile services in the UK would begin to slow once half the population had a mobile. At this time last year, it was expected to take until around 2003 for 50 per cent of Britons to become regular mobile phone users. Now that level of usage is expected to be passed sometime towards the end of next year.

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