Vodafone launches wireless portal

Portal aims to bring together worlds of Internet and mobile phone, with star-studded cast of partners

In its latest move to convince investors that it is the right home for Germany's Mannesmann, giant telco Vodafone AirTouch (quote: VOD) Tuesday launched a global platform and branded portal for mobile data and Internet.

The company's partners for the venture include Sun Microsystems, IBM, Sweden's Ericsson, Finland's Nokia and 3Com's Palm Computing, as well as handheld computer maker Psion (quote: PON). The portal is similar to a venture launched recently by UK mobile phone carrier Orange (quote: ORA), which is currently being taken over by Mannesmann.

Vodafone shares surged on the announcement, rising as high as 315p from 310p, but later dropped to around 297p. Psion soared Tuesday, reaching as high as 2,797p, or 147 above its opening price.

Vodafone, currently in the midst of a hostile takeover bid for its European partner Mannesmann, has waged an aggressive public relations war to convince Mannesmann shareholders to agree to the acquisition. Mannesmann officials insist the company would be better off remaining independent. The official close of the record E134bn (£86bn) hostile bid is 7 February.

"By accepting Vodafone AirTouch's offer, Mannesmann shareholders will have the opportunity to participate in the explosive growth opportunities of mobile data and Internet -- with a global platform covering 25 countries... 48 million customers... and over 510 million potential customers," Vodafone officials said in a statement.

Vodafone's portal is one of a number of initiatives aimed at linking the worlds of wireless and the Internet. Banking, shopping, paying bills and receiving news and information are among the services being brought to mobile phone customers in the near future.

In other news around the Vodafone-Mannesmann deal, Vodafone chief executive Chris Gent confirmed on Tuesday he has had talks with France's Vivendi, the French entertainment and telecoms company with which Mannesmann has also met. Gent said he shared a "vision of the future'' with Vivendi Chairman Jean-Marie Messier.

Vivendi has been put forward by some analysts as a possible "white knight" to save Mannesmann from the Vodafone takeover.

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