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Vodafone targets iPod crowd

Young adults are the prime target of Vodafone's first video phones, which support music downloads and TV clips. Photos: Vodafone's 3G explosion

Vodafone is aiming for the iPod generation with its third-generation cell phones, putting music and video downloading at the heart of its sales push.

The mobile operator launched its 3G service in 13 countries Wednesday, setting a goal of winning 10 million customers by March 2006. Vodafone will offer 10 3G handsets, all of which were being demonstrated at the U.K. launch in London. The targeted markets are Japan and a dozen European countries, including Britain, France, Germany and Italy.


Speaking at the event, Chief Marketing Officer Peter Bamford said Vodafone will primarily target people under 35, a group he characterized as the "young, active, fun" market.

Vodafone has signed deals with record labels, including Sony BMG, EMI and Warner Music, giving its 3G customers access to an initial collection of 3,000 downloadable songs. Bamford said this list will be regularly updated and expanded in the months ahead. The songs will be on sale for $2.75 (1.5 pounds) each, but users should be able to import their own MP3 files via USB or Bluetooth.

The music service will be heavily promoted through Vodafone's 3G advertising, some of which was demonstrated Wednesday morning. In one TV ad, a 3G user is shown walking along the street listening to a music playlist on his phone. As each song changes, his haircut mutates--from long-haired curls to dreadlocks to a mohawk--until a shaggy mullet indicates that he's inadvertently reached the country music section.

Speaking later, a Vodafone executive said that the company isn't looking to replace the iPod digital music player but hopes the 3G phones will become the "only device" people needed to carry with them.

Most of the 3G phones offered by Vodafone come with up to 16MB of internal RAM and a 32MB SD card. To get close to supplanting the iPod, people would need a 1GB SD card. But when 3G mobile phones with build-in hard drives are available--possibly within a year--Vodafone will be in a stronger position.

Users will also be able to download "mobisodes"--short video clips of TV shows. The first mobisodes offered by Vodafone will feature the TV show "24."

"The '24' mobisodes are very interesting in themselves. But the wider significance is that the entertainment industry wants to work with us to deliver content specifically for mobile users," Bamford said.

Vodafone chief executive Arun Sarin was cryptic when asked about whether any pornographic content would be delivered as part of its 3G service. He passed the question on to another senior Vodafone executive, who said that a "wide range of content would be available, but that this would be tailored to each country depending on local sensibilities."

"What was acceptable in Egypt is very different from Holland," the Vodafone executive said. "We work out the benchmark level of what's acceptable in each country, and then go more conservative."

Vodafone's 3G phones will also support video telephony and 3D games. The phones will be supplied by handset makers including Samsung, Nokia, NEC and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications.