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Operators tout FreeMove ‘easy roaming’ alliance

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European mobile phone operators Orange, Telecom Italia Mobile, T-Mobile and Telefónica Móviles today pledged to co-operate and make roaming much easier for their 230 million customers worldwide - particularly as the industry starts to roll out commercial 3G services.

Launched under the name 'FreeMove', the scheme is intended to provide handset owners exactly the same experience abroad as they receive at home. In practice, that will mean dialing operator service numbers such as directory enquiries and voicemail facilities is the same, wherever you are and whatever language you speak.

The alliance wants to steer member companies' customers to over members' networks when they travel abroad. By promoting FreeMove's ease of use alongside the names of member companies, the operators hope that their names will be the ones most likely chosen when customers start up their handsets in a new country and are presented with a list of local providers.

The move is largely in response to Vodafone, which has spent a good portion of the last five years acquiring local mobile operators and renaming them accordingly. So too have the FreeMove member operators, but on a lesser scale. And they would rather have punters hop onto an allied network - who customers might not be familiar with - that that of their largest - and better known - rival.

The four members also hope to attract more corporate customers through the deal, by making it easier to offer pan-European packages that offer consistent branding and facilities. It's not unlike the number of alliances that have emerged in the airline industry. The corporate communications market is estimated by the FreeMove partners as worth €4bn a year, and they reckon it will be easier to pitch as four networks operating as one to such customers than as four individual operators.

During 2004, the four plan to offer a number of unified business-oriented services, including a transparent tariff scheme, a fixed price for BlackBerry roaming anywhere in the world on any network, and the FreeMove data package, based on a dual-mode (GPRS/3G) data card, the four said today.

The FreeMove alliance wants to recruit more members through the rest of the year. It also pledged to leverage network interoperability to provide "an enhanced customer experience for 3G" by the end of this year. ®

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