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Vodafone Blue to woo data users with Facebook phone

Priyanka Joshi  |  Mumbai 

Starting next week, sales executives across 4000 Vodafone mini-stores in tier 2 and 3 towns will be hard selling its co-branded Facebook phone (officially launched yesterday), which costs Rs 4,950 and comes with free unlimited access for a year to the social networking site. The company is relying on Vodafone Blue, a device that will be manufactured by Alcatel, to find a consumer following in non-metros.

While Vodafone did not elaborate the revenue sharing arrangement it has with Facebook, which has over 33 million registered users from India, executives say they do expect mobile user engagement on Facebook to grow multifold.

Kumar Ramanathan, chief officer, Vodafone Essar, says the mobile data usage is expected to touch 250,000 users in India in the next three years and each telecom operator is working to get new users to experience data services. Vodafone claims to have about 20 million mobile data customers.

The telecom operator took about six months to conceptualise and test the device. Peter Becker-Pennrich, director (Terminals Marketing), says, “Vodafone Blue is meant for the emerging markets and was tested stringently for its resistance to dirt and water. We are not device manufacturers but we plan to position Vodafone Blue as a sturdy yet affordable social networking device.”

Increasing the subscriber’s mobile data consumption is Vodafone’s biggest task on hand, says Ramanathan. Presently, there are about 46 million mobile internet users in country, according to Mobile Internet in India report published by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and market research leader IMRB. According to Cellular Operators Association of India data, Vodafone Essar holds 23.58 per cent market share in July, with its subscriber base at 143.01 million.

Ramanathan says a sub-5k device is intended to bring in younger users. With a dedicated Facebook key and hardware level integration with features of the social networking site, he thinks Vodafone Blue can extend the time spent on the site, thereby allowing users to see how Edge (2G data) networks facilitate social networking on the fly.

Looking to extend its pre-paid data services in smaller towns, Vodafone is also mulling several cheap pay-as-you-go pre-paid plans to bring in more subscribers. “With 90 per cent of the country using pre-paid plans, we have to assume that new mobile data subscribers will come from within this base and they won’t pay a bomb to access websites on their handsets,” notes Ramanathan.

Vodafone has also tied up with distributors like Ingram Micro and Reddington to retail the Vodafone Blue device across country and is also beefing up its muscle to launch TVCs for the Facebook phone too. Vodafone, which has several successful campaigns to its credit including the earlier BlackBerry Boys and Zoo Zoos, is set to break its TV campaign for the Vodafone Blue next week.

Conceptualised by Ogilvy & Mather, the TVC has been shot as a Broadway musical and highlights the various Facebook features that are pre-built on the phone. Talking about the device, Piyush Pandey of O&M, says, “Even though I am not a Facebook user, I know that if you put a website on phone and give a dedicated button to operate it, it makes browsing easier. I intend to use Vodafone Blue, to see how many of my colleagues use it .”

Ironically, the TVC talks about Facebook’s popular social game Farmville, an application that Vodafone Blue does not support. The entry level feature phone, which can only work in 2G networks does not support any of Facebook’s social games.

First Published: Wed, September 07 2011. 00:27 IST