Almost a year after it was first mooted, 3G licence holder 3 Ireland has announced that it has signed a national roaming agreement with Vodafone Ireland, which will give it full access to Vodafone’s GSM/GPRS network. The commercial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
The deal means that when 3’s customers are outside areas covered by its own 3G network (currently being built on contract by Esat BT) they will seamlessly roam on to Vodafone’s GSM network, where they will be able to continue to make and receive voice calls, send and receive text and multimedia messages and access GPRS data services.
3’s customers will have no contractual relationship with Vodafone Ireland and all customer matters, including billing, will be managed by 3.
Mark Rigby, corporate affairs director for 3 UK, said: “When this service is implemented next year, it will ensure 3’s customers have the same level of national coverage for voice and data services as Vodafone Ireland’s GSM customers. In addition, 3’s customers will be able to access exciting new 3G services when inside our 3G coverage areas.”
Paul Donovan, outgoing CEO of Vodafone Ireland, commented: “The commercial agreement between 3 and Vodafone Ireland will deliver even further competition into the Irish marketplace and further stimulate the introduction of innovative services.”
The deal has taken almost a full year to hammer out, given that the companies signed heads of agreement on a roaming deal in January this year. At a time a Vodafone spokesperson said that the deal was likely to be concluded in a “couple of months”. Commenting on the protracted nature of the negotiations, Roisin O’Connell, head of corporate communications at Vodafone Ireland, said the process had been long but not usually so: “It’s just taken that long until we’ve got this signed contract because both companies are very large and negotiations can be laborious.”
The January announcement by both companies came quickly on the heels of a decision by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) that designated both O2 and Vodafone as having “significant market power” and as such obliged them to allow other operators access their networks. A ComReg spokesperson said today’s agreement means Vodafone fulfils its licence obligations. “It was one of the licence commitments for Vodafone. As part of having a B licence there’s a commitment to roaming.”
O’Connell stressed that the deal is purely about roaming and does not involve 3 acting as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) on Vodafone’s network, ie buying voice minutes from Vodafone and reselling them to its customers. She added that the agreement is effective immediately, meaning Vodafone and 3 will get to work on the technical aspects of the roaming deal, a process that should take “no more than a few weeks” to conclude, she said. This would clear the way for 3 to launch its long-anticipated 3G services early in the new year, although the company, when contacted by siliconrepublic.com, would not give any indication of launch timing. A spokeswoman simply said this would depend on the progress on the rollout of its 3G network and that the company was “very happy with the site acquisition” to date.
By Brian Skelly