Vodafone hopes to increase data usage by its pay-as-you-go customers with the launch of a Facebook-centric handset.
The Vodafone 555 Blue feature phone has a 2.4-inch non-touchscreen display and a Qwerty keypad, with a dedicated, configurable Facebook button for quick access to social-networking features.
The integrated Facebook features are expected to spur data service uptake in countries such as India, where "internet penetration is a single digit", according to Kumar Ramanathan, head of marketing for Vodafone Essar. In turn, this should encourage usage of mobile data services instead of fixed-line internet connections for social networking, he added.
"This is not about trying to compete with handset suppliers," Patrick Chomet, group terminal director at Vodafone, said on Wednesday. "The Vodafone-branded device unit is a marketing tool to democratise trends."
As well as focusing on emerging markets, Vodafone plans to use the device to increase data revenues in established markets such as the UK.
"This is all about driving data growth in the pre-pay segment," Peter Becker-Pennrich, managing director of Vodafone's group terminals unit, said. "We've got 87 million of our customers using mobile data, but we've got 382 million customers. There's a way to go."
Chomet also noted that over the last 12 months data revenue reached £5.1bn, compensating for a decline in voice revenue. It also outstripped SMS revenue for the first time, he added.
The Vodafone 555 Blue is manufactured by Alcatel and branded for Vodafone. It offers 2.5G or Edge connectivity, but omits 3G or Wi-Fi. It runs a proprietary operating system — a commonplace practice in feature phones — and comes with a Vodafone-branded version of the Opera Mini web browser pre-installed.