Vodafone warns of threat from Google and Apple

Chief executive Arun Sarin has warned the industry to get creative around mobile services or risk being sidelined by newer arrivals
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

Vodafone chief executive Arun Sarin has warned the industry to get creative about mobile services or risk becoming marginalised by the arrival of new kids on the block such as Apple and Google.

In his keynote speech at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona on Tuesday, Sarin said: "We must, as an industry, learn to both partner and compete with these new players because our customers want to experience entertainment such as music downloads, mobile TV, user-generated content such as YouTube, and social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. We have to welcome these new ideas and yet make sure we are relevant for our customers."

Sarin also called for an end to the competition between WiMax and LTE (the long-term evolution of 3G), saying WiMax could be happily accommodated under the LTE umbrella, rather than having "duelling standards".

Sarin said: "In the end… technology is not what matters; it's services, it's applications, it's experiences."

Because mobile customers now want to communicate via a variety of methods — be it SMS, email or social-networking websites — Sarin said the industry must step up to the challenge and "be in all these places".

"We must not allow ourselves to become bit-pipes and let somebody else do the services work," Sarin warned.

Sarin also admitted Apple's iPhone has "raised the bar", showing how important user interfaces are in the quest to drive data usage.

Sarin said: "The easier the interface, the more you use it and the easier it is to get onto the internet."

Sarin also talked up the potential of mobile advertising — returning to a topic he broached at last year's trade show — saying Vodafone is experimenting with nine different mobile-advertising business models. He said mobile internet has an edge over the fixed internet as it can offer far more information on its users, which translates into better ad targeting.

Sarin said: "I think, as an industry, this can become a very important source of revenues without giving up the privacy bond that we have with our customers."

Fewer mobile operating systems is another item on the Vodafone chief's wish-list. Sarin called for a narrowing of the playing field, saying three to five operating systems would make life much easier for service developers than the 30 or 40 currently in play.

"Now I didn't say one," Sarin added. "We've seen that movie before and we don't [want to] go there, but equally we don't want 30."

Looking ahead, Sarin said HSDPA will be "insufficient" three years from now: "I firmly believe that customers will demand faster networks... So we have to continue to innovate and make sure that technologies like LTE come to life in a reasonable time period."

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