Vodafone has gained a convincing lead in European mobile multimedia services, according to top telecoms analyst Ovum. The operator now has more than 1.75 million subscribers for its Vodafone live! mobile portal.
Principal Ovum analyst John Delaney said: “With 1.75 million live! subscribers under his belt, the outgoing CEO Chris Gent opined in his parting shot that a target of eight million subscribers sometime during 2004 seemed achievable to him. We wouldn’t bet too much money against it, if current form is anything to go by.”
According to Delaney, key to Vodafone’s participation in the mobile portal market has been a combination of continually redressing its handset offerings and the quality of content available across its portal.
Of the original three phones used to support Vodafone live!, the company has expanded this to eight phones with further handsets planned. The best-selling live! phone continues to be the flagship Sharp GX-10. In August, Vodafone launched a new exclusive phone, the Sharp GX-20, which includes all the features of the GX-10, plus support for video content.
In terms of content, Vodafone has been signing high-profile deals including UEFA European football content, the BBC for video content such as clips of Fawlty Towers and Eidos for its Lara Croft Tomb Raider character. The company has also signed deals with Sony for a range of movie-related games including Charlie’s Angels and Stuart Little as well as major music companies including Universal and EMI.
The UK appears to be one of the most prominent markets in Europe for consuming mobile content. According to new research people in the UK are downloading more web pages on their mobiles than ever. On average 28.5 million pages are viewed a day through WAP (wireless application protocol) according to the Mobile Data Association.
Delaney said: “Currently, most live! subscribers are in their late twenties and thirties, because the phones have been relatively expensive to buy. Vodafone’s next moves with live! will be aimed at increasing the percentage of customers in the younger age bracket: they intend to make live! phones more ‘affordable’, and also to re-design the interface to appeal to the younger target demographic. But Vodafone also has plans to enhance the content of live! for older users too. For example, it’s working on a more sophisticated news service, including push delivery of headline alerts, with links to the full news stories.”
Despite all of this, Delaney expressed some concerns. “What doesn’t seem to be an urgent item on the live! agenda is streaming video. Vodafone has dipped its toe into the water of video, recently adding video messaging and downloads with the Nokia 3650 and Sharp GX-20 phones, but it isn’t doing a major push towards making video content a more integral part of live!. More extensive use of video, including streaming, is likely to wait for the European launch of Vodafone’s 3G networks, and Vodafone has already made it clear that live! will be the anchor brand for its 3G services, as well as the existing GPRS services.”
Among other European operators launching multimedia portals during the year are O2 with Active, T-mobile with t-zones, Telefonica with e-mocion and the European i-mode services. According to Delaney, Vodafone live! continues to lead the pack in Europe and shows every sign of fighting to keep things that way. But will it succeed?
“There’s only one possible stumbling block, so far as we can see: Orange. So far, Orange’s response to Vodafone live! has been conspicuously absent. That state of affairs isn’t likely to continue for much longer. When Orange does throw its hat into the ring, on past form it looks likely to present a serious challenge to Vodafone on its UK home turf, as well as elsewhere,” Delaney said.
By John Kennedy