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Vodafone, VivendiNet Sign European Multi-Access Portal Agreement

[May 17] Vodafone AirTouch Plc and VivendiNet S.A. confirmed Wednesday their intention of creating Europe's first multi-access Internet portal by signing a formal agreement.

At a press conference in Paris, Chris Gent and Jean-Marie Messier -- respectively chief executives of Vodafone AirTouch and Vivendi -- explained that the new portal would let customers access the Internet and purchase goods and services via their computer, their WAP phone, and their interactive TV set.

The new portal is to be called VIZZAVI and will be the default portal for more than 70 million Vodafone/Vivendi mobile, PC and TV customers in Europe. The name VIZZAVI will apply to both the joint venture and the new global Internet brand from Vodafone.

Pronouncing it "a major strategic accord", Gent and Messier outlined a variety of services covering news, sports, and general information, with the added promise of new technology to read e-mail by voice for the convenience of mobile users.

Existing Vodafone and Vivendi Internet portals and assets will be transferred to VIZZAVI in the coming months, said the two chief executives. Saying they believe they have only a 12-18 month window of opportunity for VIZZAVI, they also revealed their intention for the new venture to have an IPO within two years.

VIZZAVI will launch initially in France and the U.K., with Germany expected to come on-stream by the end of 2000. All affiliated operators in Europe will have the portal by the end of 2001.

The original announcement of the deal came as a turning-point in Vodafone's battle to acquire the German company Mannesmann earlier this year. At the time, the board of Mannesmann hoped that an alliance with Vivendi might prevent Vodafone's aggressive takeover. However, Vivendi's alliance with Vodafone left Mannesmann without further options.

Although hastily conceived, the intention to create a multi-access Internet portal in Europe is an appealing concept to investors who have given it their support. Since then, the details have been inked and work has begun on the portal.

The new multi-access portal, headed by Chief Executive Evan Newmark, will inevitably have a "mobile bias", coming from Europe's leading mobile vendor.

Together, Vodafone and Vivendi have pan-European coverage, with Vodafone strong in the U.K., Germany and Italy. VivendiNet, a joint venture between Vivendi and Canal+, has similar penetration of France, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium.