Branson steps into mobile phone market

Virgin Mobile joint venture with One 2 One launch with 'xtras'

The UK's fifth mobile operator -- Virgin Mobile -- launches today, compliments of Richard Branson. Billed as the country's first virtual operator, the company is a 50:50 joint venture with One 2 One.

Virgin Mobile introduces a new pay structure with no monthly line rental and offers customers a choice of either a pre-pay or post-pay billing option.

Through its range of branded handsets Virgin is offering a range of e-commerce and information services called 'xtras'. For example, Xtras can offer access to Internet radio or even the facility to book holidays direct from the handset.

In typical headline grabbing style, Branson hit out at the mobile phone industry, claiming it was "rip-off Britain at work again," and that "hardly anyone is getting a good deal." He claimed Virgin Mobile could save UK mobile phone users over £1.6bn a year with the introduction of its new tariffs, which, he said, works out at around £200 per year per customer.

Differentiating the company's pricing strategy from its competitors, call charges decrease as the amount of daily calls increases. Calls cost 15p a minute for the first ten minutes, 10p for the next ten minutes and then 5p a minute for the remainder of the day. In Branson's own words there are "no rip-off high peak call costs" either.

Although none of Virgin's phones are WAP enabled, the company claimed it "would be embracing WAP technology" as it becomes established. In the meantime phones are equipped with a powerful 32K SIM card that offers customers a range of information and e-commerce services. Currently these are mainly from the Virgin Group of companies but as the service matures, Virgin Mobile intends to make content partnerships with other companies.

From today Virgin Mobile subscribers can access the following services:

  • Make enquiries and book tickets for Virgin holidays, flights and trains

  • Listen to a 30 second clip from any track from a changing weekly menu of ten albums and order the CD

  • Receive offers and exclusive deals from the Virgin Group of companies via a text message

  • Traffic reports from the RAC and sign up for a roadside breakdown service for a one-off fee of £15

  • Receive and send email from any POP3 email account

  • Listen to 20 chart singles on Virgin Mobile's Internet radio station

The seven handsets offered by Virgin Mobile range from Philips' Savvy DB for £69.99 to the Motorola V.3688 for £379.99.