Vodafone is targeting the iPod generation with its 3G mobile phone service, by putting music and video downloading at the heart of its sales push.
The mobile operator launched its 3G service in 13 countries on Wednesday, setting itself the target of winning 10 million customers by March 2006. It will offer 10 3G handsets, all of which were being demonstrated at the UK launch in London. Six will be available in the UK.
Speaking at the event, chief marking officer Peter Bamford said that Vodafone would be primarily targeting the under-35s, a group he characterised as the 'Young Active Fun' (YAF) market.
Vodafone has signed deals with record labels including Sony BMG, EMI and Warner Music, giving its 3G customers access to an initial collection of 3,000 downloadable songs. Bamford said that this list would be regularly updated and expanded in the months ahead. These songs will be on sale for £1.50 each, but users should be able to import their own MP3 files via USB or Bluetooth.
The music offering will be heavily plugged through Vodafone's 3G advertising, some of which was demonstrated on Wednesday morning. In one TV advert, a 3G user is shown walking along the street listening to a music playlist on his phone. As each song changes his hair cut mutates, from long-haired curls to dreadlocks to a Mohican --- until a shaggy mullet indicates that he's inadvertently reached the country music section.
Speaking later, a Vodafone executive said that the company wasn't looking to replace the iPod, but hoped that their 3G phones would become "the only device" that people needed to carry with them.
Most of the 3G phones offered by Vodafone come with up to 16MB of internal RAM and a 32MB SD card. To get close to supplanting the iPod, users would need a 1GB SD card. But when 3G mobile phones with built-in hard drives are available -- possibly within a year's time -- Vodafone would be in a stronger position.
Users will also be able to download 'mobisodes' -- short video clips of TV shows. The first mobisodes offered by Vodafone will feature hit TV show "24".
"The 24 mobisodes are very interesting in themselves. But the wider significance is that the entertainment industry wants to work with us to deliver content specifically for mobile users," Bamford said.
Vodafone chief executive Arun Sarin was cryptic when asked about whether any pornographic content would be delivered as part of its 3G service. He passed the question onto another senior Vodafone executive, who said that a wide range of content would be available, but that this would be tailored to each country depending on local sensibilities.
"What was acceptable in Egypt is very different from Holland," said the Vodafone executive. "We work out the benchmark level of what's acceptable in each country, and then go more conservative," he said.
Vodafone's 3G phones will also support video telephony and 3D games.