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Vodafone asks for wireless data guinea-pigs

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An integrated - GPRS and WiFi - mobile data service is due to be rolled out by Vodafone in July or August. The company is now asking for corporates who want to be guinea-pigs of the new version of Vodafone Mobile Office, to sign up.

The new service will be "officially" secret for another couple of months, but it will be aimed squarely at corporates using PC and Pocket PC devices, and using corporate software - like SAP and Seybold and other standard "mainframe" systems remotely.

And it uses the Citrix remote access technology to provide its connectivity, although the deal to cement this product hasn't been officially inked between Citrix and Vodafone yet.

The service will probably cost around £50 per head per month, said Ivan Donn, director of Mobile Applications for Vodafone, at a seminar during Citrix's user forum in Edinburgh today.

"We will certainly want to make it possible for our customers to get access from whatever wireless they have. There will be a big WiFi button on our software, the Dashboard product, and we'll pay the bills for access to all the Wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) that people meet," said Donn.

That includes rivals like T-Mobile, who recently rolled out a joint subscription for GPRS/WiFi users. "We have agreements with all our rival phone network providers," said Donn. "They take our users' money for access to their GPRS networks; why wouldn't they also take our users' money for access to WLAN services? I expect deals to be in place when we announce the service at the end of the year."

The service won't be entirely seamless; Vodafone already provides a variety of data cards so that people can (for example) use CDMA data in those parts of America where it is available, or GSM/GPRS data in other areas. But users probably won't care, at this stage.

"We've been weak in complementing this with whole solutions, which makes the work we do with Citrix important," said Donn. "Giving people bits of solutions, an expecting them to shop around for parts of the rest and putting it together on a DIY way is not the way to drive the market."

Also, he believes, Vodafone will have to de-risk the solution; "we have to have a flat line charge rate, which makes it easier to detect whether RoI is coming in." He said the likely charge "would be nearer £50 than £60 per month."

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