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Vodafone shops around, spunks cash on muso's Vouchercloud

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Vodafone has splurged on a controlling interest in Groupon-tribute-act Vouchercloud, the spawn of the Pet Shop Boys' keyboardist Scott Davidson. Voda is now mulling over spunking a load more cash on Telstra's New Zealand operation.

Vodafone already owned 21 per cent of Vouchercloud's owner, Innovation Digital Limited, but has now upped that to 57 per cent. The telco has retained first option rights on any future shares, ensuring that it can maintain a controlling interest.

IDL was set up in 2010 by Davidson, formerly of the popular musical combo, and claims almost two million downloads of its smartphone client despite being UK only. Vodafone's intention is to immediately push Vouchercloud internationally, starting with Ireland and extending to other Vodafone territories shortly.

Vouchercloud offers discount codes displayed in its phone app, as well as printable vouchers, much in the same mould as Groupon although the emphasis is on mobile.

The app uses GPS to pinpoint your location and deliver offers specific to wherever you happen to be standing - but it is limited to smartphones (BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Android and iOS) unlike operator-specific competitors including O2 More and Orange Shots, which deliver similar offers via SMS/MMS, and track location based on the whereabouts of the nearest phone mast.

O2 More and Orange Shots are both opt-in services: customers voluntarily hand over demographic details in exchange for vouchers, and both have proved popular. Vouchercloud has been an operator-independent alternative, and it will be interesting to see if Vodafone keeps it that way.

Advertisers rarely want to deal with separate operators, which is why the UK networks launched Project Oscar - a cooperative cross-operator advertising platform based on, but not limited to, wireless NFC technology.

If the EU gives the go ahead to Project Oscar, against the objections of Google and PayPal, then Oscar will be able to sell advertising in text and picture messages, push offers via NFC, and embed adverts and vouchers into apps across network operators. However, if Europe's competition watchdog blocks the project then Vouchercloud's smartphone-only approach could be the only cross-network deal in town.

Even if Project Oscar goes ahead Vodafone will want similar power in all its territories, so will be pushing Vouchercloud into international expansion.

Those territories could well include New Zealand as over the weekend Vodafone was pushed into putting out a statement confirming rumoured talks with Aussie operator Telstra to buy up its Kiwi arm, TelstraClear, though it's saying nothing more about that deal right now. ®

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