Vodafone looks to wireless broadband

Mobile WiMax has caught Vodafone's attention, but right now the company is just trying to make some money out of 3G

Roughly a year after its 3G launch, Vodafone is turning its attention to the next generation of radio technologies, including mobile WiMax, and may even make a play as a wireless-broadband provider.

Speaking on Tuesday as the operator announced its interim results, Vodafone chief executive Arun Sarin said the company is looking into wireless broadband and "mobility-based" wireless DSL products. "We're looking to expand that market," he said.

Sarin continued: "Equally, we're looking at new technologies that come along... tomorrow it could be Wi-Fi, it could be mobile WiMax. We're quite agnostic."

With T-Mobile already having rolled out UMTS-TDD and Flash-OFDM in Slovakia, Sarin said Vodafone is looking at the technology but will not necessarily choose to adopt it.

He added: "We tried it in the lab; they tried it in some countries."

While Vodafone continues mulling pastures new, Sarin confirmed the company is ready to bring HSDPA — the software upgrade that boosts download speeds to mobiles, sometimes known as 3.5G — into the fold and will begin rolling it out to users from summer next year.

The proposed rollout follows announcements from rival operators O2, which is already involved in a trial of HSDPA and T-Mobile, which plans to give its customers the technology next year.

However, Sarin indicated that the operator will be milking its investment in 3G for some time to come.

He said: "We're completely convinced it's the right platform for us... We're comfortable 3G and HSDPA have a long life."

According to Vodafone's latest set of interims, there are now nearly five million Vodafone 3G devices in the wild, with the operator expecting to double that number by March 2006 — but it's a drop in the ocean compared to the operator's 171 million customers worldwide.

3G has its upsides. Vodafone has found that its 3G customers have a tendency to spend more — particularly on data services, which gives Sarin a warm feeling.

The dream that 3G "gives us higher share of wallets is coming true", he said. "Clearly 3G is beginning to take shape and take form, not just in our customers' hands but in our financial results."

However, the 'more 3G customers equals more money' equation doesn't necessarily hold true. Vodafone spends more on acquiring 3G customers, as well as more on subsidies. It will also be spending more on building out its network to increase 3G coverage.