Vodafone wins some and loses some in Asia
Forms partnership with Conexus cellco alliance in the region, but loses pacts with M1 in Singapore and SmarTone Hong Kong
Published: 20 September, 2011
Vodafone has had a week of mixed fortunes in building its brand and presence in Asia. While it has signed a new deal with cellco grouping Conexus Mobile Alliance, it has also lost two partners in the region, M1 in Singapore and SmarTone in Hong Kong. Both will end their deals with Vodafone, which covered joint marketing, services provision and branding, at the end of this year. SmarTone-Vodafone will revert to its trading name SmarTone. The two carriers became Vodafone's exclusive partners in their countries when the respective agreements were signed in 2003 and 2004.
An M1 spokesperson told TelecomAsia that the two operators' interests had diverged over the years, and the agreement no longer generated sufficient benefits for it, in light of its high costs. SmarTone CEO Douglas Li made similar comments. This may indicate that the price operators are willing to pay to use the Vodafone brand and marketing muscle is declining as some smaller carriers start to build their own names and profiles more effectively. M1 also said that the Vodafone terms and conditions had prevented it engaging in roaming agreements with some other players and it would now approach such partners. The most visible change for customers, it said, was that M1 will no longer offer Vodafone branded BlackBerry devices and dongles.
On the plus side, Vodafone announced a deal with the Conexus Mobile Alliance, geared to roaming across Asia-Pacific and particularly to cooperation on supporting multinational customers. The UK-based giant said Conexus would complement its existing Asian subsidiaries in India, Australia, Fiji and New Zealand and its partners in Malaysia (Celcom) and Sri Lanka (Dialog). Vodafone expects to work immediately with Conexus members FarEasTone (Taiwan), Hutchison Telecom (Hong Kong), Japan's NTT DoCoMo, The Philippines' Smart, StarHub of Singapore, and TrueMove (Thailand). It also hopes to expand the agreement to cover the remaining Conexus members, such as KT in South Korea, to further enhance roaming coverage.
DoCoMo could be particularly important. The deal with the Japanese leader seems to go further than the others, including "global corporate sales, terminals and best practice sharing", according to Vodafone's statement. The Asian major has been forming increasingly close bonds with selected western partners, notably Telefonica, with which it has a joint procurement agreement for handsets, among other tie-ups.
Vodafone said, perhaps referring to its lost partners: "In countries where Vodafone already has a current partner market agreement in place, any new agreement with a Conexus member would take effect once the existing contract had expired." It added: "The only Conexus country in which Vodafone would not seek an alliance is India, where Vodafone already operates under the Vodafone brand. India remains a Conexus country and there will be no change in the day-to-day operation and commitment of her alliance members."