Vodafone Aims for World Wide Wireless

Mobile operator Vodafone Airtouch Tuesday unveiled its new wireless strategy, introducing a group of well-known Internet names to support its new service.

Vodafone’s wireless portal is expected to be launched in July in Australia, Europe and North America. Users of Vodafone mobile devices in each of its 24 countries of operation will eventually be able to access e-mail, online calendars and other personalised Net services as a result of the initiative.

While InfoSpace.com will build the platform and portal for the service, the Sun-Netscape alliance intends to add its iPlanet products to the mix. Sun will also bring hardware, software, Java technology, and support to the new service, extending a series of partnerships between the two companies. IBM will effectively host the party, with a deal to create and manage the back-end infrastructure for the portal. IBM will also aggregate content from Charles Schwab, Sabre, Travelocity.com and InfoSpace.com, among others.

Vodafone AirTouch also plans to offer enriched voice services together with a whole range of other messaging and data services on mobile phones, PDAs and other handheld gadgets from major vendors.

“Today we are announcing our plans for the launch of this global platform together with partnerships with world-class companies for systems operation, information content and access,” said Chris Gent, chief executive of Vodafone. “We are opening a new chapter in the development of the Internet, adding a fourth ‘W’ to the World Wide Web. From now on, it will be the World Wide Wireless Web.”

Support for a variety of emerging protocols such as GSM, GPRS and 3G is built into the InfoSpace.com solution to be used by Vodafone.

IBM executive Doug Elix said that the company estimates that by 2003, more people will be connecting to the Web via a wireless device than through PCs.

Vodafone AirTouch handled over 86 million text messages in the U.K. during December. The move comes right at the time that Vodafone is negotiating a takeover bid for Mannesmann AG.

Vodafone AirTouch operates in 24 countries on five continents, with an estimated 31 million subscribers as of September last year.

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