If you build it, we will come, says Vodafone

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Vodafone is planning to piggyback on another carrier's 3G network rather than build its own, while continuing to sweat its GSM network as hard as it can, according to Vodafone Australia managing director Grahame Maher.

"We will have a 3G service in Australia, but whether we have a 3G network is a completely different question," Maher said at the announcement of a new set of wholesale GSM packages.

"Would we share with Telstra or Optus or Hutch? We would and we are talking to all of them," he said.

Maher said four or five 3G networks would be too many in Australia. Asked to pinpoint a more ideal number, he said there will be at least two, with one being Telstra and the other Hutchison.

"Singtel probably won't partner with Telstra, but they might, if they are smart," he said. A partnership between Singtel and Hutchison is unlikely, he said, given the history between the companies in Asia.

Maher said Vodafone is also looking to exit its unused data centre in the Sydney suburb of Newington. The centre, on which Vodafone had a 15-year lease, was to provide capacity for a 3G service.

Vodafone had been looking to place tenants in the centre, but is now seeking to get out of the facility altogether, although Maher said interest has been scant. He said if the company cannot get out, the data centre may be turned into a regional facility for Vodafone.

The new GSM wholesale packages, meanwhile, will offer a "complete and ready" mobile service to partners, Maher said. He said they will be a true wholesale model, allowing full branding of the mobile service, as well as things like billing and content.

Maher said Vodafone already has 250,000 wholesale customers. The company has signed Macquarie Corporate as a wholesale partner and will begin delivering services in the New Year.

Vodafone is also looking for partners to attack niche markets, with small ethnic-market focussed operators one avenue being explored.

"We are now starting partnerships with Vodafone delivering services to these to these markets in far smarter ways than we could have done ourselves," said Vodafone director of wholesale and new markets, Ian Scherger.

Vodafone will offer wholesale customers a choice of a full service premium package, that can include GPRS and MMS, an SMS-based Promoter package for SMS marketing, or a Fleet package for applications like mobile phones built into cars or trucks.

"It is a fundamental part of our growth strategy," Scherger said. He said Vodafone is also looking at other potential customers with large customer bases and strong brands from outside the telecommunications sector, such as banks and big retailers.

"This is a low margin business, but it is a low cost business as well," Maher said.

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