LONDON -- There's nothing like buzzwords such as "interoperability" and "geo-tagging" to get investors' pulses racing. At least that's what
hoped as it unveiled Tuesday its mobile data and Internet plan to investors and the press.
Vodafone, currently trying to take over German rival
, says it's developing a single global platform to carry mobile data -- as well as a mobile portal through which users can access the various applications on the platform. The first version is scheduled for launch in July and will offer messaging, information services such as movie listings, and e-commerce services such as banking and share trading. After that, the platform will be upgraded over time with additional services.
For all the geek-speak and an impressive listing of partners, however, the market remained unsure whether this strategy provides proof that Vodafone and Mannesmann are indeed "
." (The italics are Vodafone's.)
Vodafone hopes this strategy will push the mobile operator to the forefront of the mobile commerce revolution and counter Mannesmann's argument that combining fixed-line voice and mobile services offers greater growth potential than Vodafone's wireless-only focus.
After an initial flurry of excitement, which saw Vodafone rise about 4.8%, the shares closed Tuesday down 1.3% to 297.8 pence ($4.90). As of 3:43 p.m. EST,
New York Stock Exchange
-traded shares were down 2.5%.
Upwardly Mobile Partners
Vodafone's presentation, conducted by CEO Chris Gent, was held in a brewery-turned-conference facility, an appropriate venue given the heady Internet-speak, liberally laced with the names of firms that have become synonymous with the Web.
To develop and operate the system, Vodafone has brought on board
will integrate all the systems; and
will deliver the content.
On the content side,
will provide the stock market information and trading services. The handset partners include
and, of course,
According to the IT consultancy
, there will be 237 million mobile-phone users in Europe by the end of 2003, which will represent an average 64% penetration in each country. The U.K. boutique research and investment firm
reckons that m-commerce, as mobile commerce is coming to be known, will have a compound annual growth rate of 236% until 2003, by which time the market will be worth 23.6 billion euros ($24.3 billion).
Vodafone believes this market will help it reverse the decline in average revenue per user, or ARPU, that all mobile operators are suffering. Vodafone argues that its ARPU estimates for the fiscal year to March 31, 2004, will increase by 20% to 25%, though quite how it arrives at that figure is a mystery.
So why did the market lose interest so suddenly?
Although the global platform will be the first of its kind, mobile portals are nothing particularly new. European operators that have already launched mobile portals include Finlands's
. Mannesmann is also in the space.
Falk Muller-Veerse, an analyst at Durlacher, believes that a mobile operator developing its own mobile portal may not be the best solution. Vodafone may bring strengths such as a billing relationship, location information and a strong national brand, but it has neither the content expertise nor the partnering experience.
"The ideal combination for creating a mobile portal would be the mobile operator plus an existing portal player, because they have complementary strengths," Muller-Veerse says.
After all, estimates about m-commerce are really only virtual stabs in the dark. Even Muller-Veerse, who is very bullish on the potential for m-commerce, admits there is likely to be a lot of hype in the short run which will inevitably lead to disappointment. Durlacher does not provide equity ratings or offer traditional investment banking advice to established firms.
The list of Vodafone's partners shows just how important the mobile operator believes m-commerce will be in the coming years. Mannesmann's shareholders, however, like numbers to go with all those clever words, and alas, those are likely to be some time in coming.