3 Ireland and Vodafone set to sign roaming deal

28 Jan 2004

3 Ireland, otherwise known as Hutchison 3G, and Vodafone Ireland have announced that they have signed Heads of Terms for a national roaming agreement on Vodafone Ireland’s 2G (GSM) network in the Republic of Ireland.

According to a spokesperson for Vodafone Ireland, the negotiations between the two companies are exclusive, meaning that neither O2 nor Meteor – Ireland’s other two mobile networks – can open negotiations with 3 Ireland on a roaming deal. The spokesperson added that a deal was likely to be concluded in a “couple of months”.

The talks between Vodafone and 3 – which has contracted EsatBT to build its 3G network in Ireland – will surprise some industry watchers who felt that Meteor’s low-traffic network would have been best placed to offer roaming to a mobile virtual network operator (MNVO). An MVNO is a company that offer mobile services on the back of the infrastructure of an existing mobile operator and in this way can compete in the mobile market without having to build a full mobile network. Virgin Mobile’s use of T-Mobile’s network in the UK is probably Europe’s most successful execution of the concept to date.

The news that Vodafone is in talks regarding an MVNO deal follows yesterday’s announcement by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) that both O2 and Vodafone, with over 95pc of the Irish mobile market, have been designated as having significant market power and as such are obliged to allow other operators access their networks. The Vodafone spokesperson pointed out that today’s announcement is not a response to the ComReg decision – “we didn’t put this thing together in 12 hours” – but said that the company had been considering the MVNO for a number of months. “Our attitude has been to keep an open mind [to MVNOs] so long as the commercial terms are right.”

By Brian Skelly