The Vodafone device has deep integration with Facebook

Operator giant Vodafone on Wednesday introduced the world’s first ‘official’ Facebook phone targeted specifically at the prepay market. The device, known as the 555 Blue, will be a group wide offering, aimed at the youth demographic in both mature and emerging markets.

At a London press conference, Telecoms.com got to chat with Vodafone’s group terminals director, Patrick Chomet, who explained that the device which is manufactured by Alcatel (the French vendor’s brand was acquired by Chinese vendor TCT Mobile in 2004) and runs a proprietary OS, took an in house team a year to develop.

In dedicating this level of resource to the programme, the operator clearly expects a strong return on its investment. Chomet pointed to Vodafone’s second quarter results, announced last week, which revealed that data revenue grew by 24.5 per cent year on year to £1.5bn, representing 13.7 per cent of group service revenue. More importantly, this growth brought about an inflection point where income from data services for the first time offset the decline in voice revenues.

In a bid to harness this trend, the Facebook phone will be used to capitalise on the opportunity afforded by data usage in the prepay sector, by deeply integrating the social networking experience with the device.

Upon activation, users are presented with the option to either sign up or sign into a Facebook account, after which the user’s Facebook friends list becomes integrated with the phonebook. Automatic updating is user definable at a granular level allowing users to keep costs down, which for Vodafone delivers an opportunity to cash in on data usage from a relatively untapped sector and for Facebook opens up the opportunity to increase its user base in rural, emerging markets where fixed line internet is nonexistent.

Kumar Ramanathan, chief marketing officer for Vodafone Essar, flew in from India to give his perspective on the device launch in his market, which he believes will be an easy pitch for both urban and rural areas due to Facebook’s popularity in the Indian market. “We have 60 million mobile internet users in the country and around 40 per cent of those use Facebook on mobile. We have a huge number of young people and social networking will drive growth in the mobile space,” said Ramanathan.

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