Channel central to Vodafone's 3G plans

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Vodafone hopes data-hungry small businesses and an extensive channel program would help it cut a swathe in the increasingly competitive 3G telephony market.

The telco launched its long-discussed Australian 3G network, initially available in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, along with airport locations in most other capitals.

Further rollouts, including metropolitan availability in Brisbane and Perth, are scheduled for early next year.

Vodafone joined an increasingly crowded market, with Hutchison 3's service available for more than two years and Telstra's debuting in September.

Optus, which will also use Vodafone's network, has promised a launch before the end of the year.

Vodafone's pricing patterns are similar to its existing mobile offerings, with a range of capped plans and hardware discounts for customers who sign up to 24-month contracts.

John Casey, chief marketing officer at Vodafone said that Vodafone's existing channel arrangements would be crucial in promoting its new offerings, including expanded Vodafone live! content and a high-speed version of its Vodafone Mobile Connect (VMC) service.

"We've been in a conversation with our channel for more than 18 months," he said.

As well as Vodafone's existing retail network of 74 stores, 3G phones and plans will be sold through 298 dealers, 42 Allphones stores and more than 450 Ingram Micro partners.

One particular area of focus for IT retailers will be the VMC data service.

Business markets general manager Mark Iles said that 80 percent of the existing 8000 customers for the 2G VMC service were SOHO or SMB accounts. "The vast majority of remote working is in that area," he said.

"We currently sell more than half our VMC cards through retail, and we have had an enormous amount of interest from the IT reseller community". The 3G VMC data card retails for $399, with monthly access plans ranging from $29.95 to $99.95.

Vodafone also outlined a scheme to reward existing customers through a new program, Vodafone Delight, providing "free or heavily discounted offers" via the Internet, based on previous usage patterns. Casey described the promotion as "the biggest acquisition campaign in our history".

Launch discounts for new customers include such standard fare as two-for-one phones deals and free access to services during a three-month honeymoon period.

Partners are required to commit to a stringent qualification process, company officials said. "Our channel is pumped, primed, trained and ready to go," Casey said.
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