Vodafone Airtouch unveils mobile 'Net strategy

Vodafone AirTouch has detailed a strategy for giving users access to data and the Internet from their mobile phones, starting with a service scheduled to launch in July.

In doing so, the mobile communications company also hopes to score points with shareholders of Mannesmann, the company with which it is in a hostile takeover battle.

Under its new wireless strategy, Vodafone AirTouch will roll out a set of applications that can be accessed by Vodafone AirTouch mobile users worldwide, according to a company statement. Users will be able to access these services through a special Internet portal, Vodafone said. They will also be able to customise the portals from their PCs, which the company said would allow users to better synchronise desktop and mobile information.

The first set of services, to be rolled out in July, includes synchronisation of desktop applications, Web mail, and two different SMSs (Short Message Services). SMS technology transmits brief data messages at rates of 9.6Kbps. It will also include information services such as online games, news, weather, address books, calendars, directories, and movie listings, Vodafone AirTouch said.

By the end of the year, Vodafone AirTouch will add features such as GPS, location-based technology services, and e-commerce applications via mobile phone.

To deliver these services, Vodafone AirTouch is partnering with Sun Microsystems, IBM, InfoSpace.com, Charles Schwab, Travelocity.com, Palm Computing, Ericsson and Nokia, the company said.

IBM will serve as systems integrator, and Sabre and Charles Schwab will be content partners, providing travel tools and stock market information, respectively.

On the hardware side, Palm Computing will make its handheld computer work with the new mobile Internet applications. Handset manufacturers Nokia and Ericsson will work to ensure that a large volume of phones that can use WAP will be available for the July launch, Vodafone AirTouch said.

Sun and the Sun-Netscape alliance will provide the end-to-end architecture and technology for Vodafone's global wireless Internet platform, Sun said in a separate statement.

Vodafone AirTouch is using technology from InfoSpace.com to deliver the wireless Internet services. InfoSpace.com's services are device-independent and can be used with networks featuring different wireless standards, such as GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and 3G (third-generation) networks.

The deal could be worth up to $US500 million over a three-year period, Vodafone said.

In the statement earlier this month, Chris Gent, chief executive of Vodafone AirTouch, invited Mannesmann shareholders to "join us". Vodafone launched a hostile attempt to take over Germany's Mannesmann in November for over $US100 billion.

Mannesmann has continued to reject Vodafone's bids, and the German company has recently taken to printing ads in UK national papers requesting that its shareholders reject Vodafone bids. Vodafone's most recent offer values each Mannesmann share at $US273 based on Vodafone's closing price on the London Stock Exchange on December 17.

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