European cell phone operators form alliance

Three of Europe's largest cellular phone operators have formed an alliance to offer simplified cross-border services to business and private customers in a bid to counter the growing market domination of Vodafone.

Telefónica Móviles SA, Telecom Italia Mobile SpA (TIM) and T-Mobile International AG & Co. KG announced the alliance Monday in a joint statement, following last week's rumors of a possible deal between the three operators.

Under the deal, Telefónica, TIM and T-Mobile will offer customers uniform voice and data services and discounted fees across the markets in which they operate in Europe, the U.S. and Latin America. The total customer base of the three operators combined is more than 162 million in 25 countries, according to the statement.

In a first step, the group plans to offer new roaming services and fees for voice and data services, such as GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), it said.

For example, TIM customers traveling to the U.S. would be able to use their mobile phones to make calls, send and receive e-mail and communicate with the corporate intranet in exactly the same way they would in Italy. In the U.S., T-Mobile operates a network based on the same GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technology as all mobile networks in Europe.

Additionally, Telefónica, TIM and T-Mobile expect to bundle their handset activities not only to strike better deals with handset manufacturers, but also to help develop new phones and wireless devices, according to the statement.

Operators are showing increased interest in offering their own branded handsets with customized software.

Partners in the alliance, which is open to other operators, now plan to discuss the venture with competition authorities, according to the statement.

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