Vodafone Group PLC plans to launch a service across Europe that will deliver e-mails to handsets from several different manufacturers, according to people familiar with the situation. The move by the world’s largest cellphone-service provider in terms of revenue will ratchet up the competitive pressure on Research In Motion Ltd. of Waterloo, Canada, which currently dominates the market for so-called push e-mail with its popular BlackBerry device.
Like the BlackBerry, Vodafone’s push e-mail service automatically delivers users’ incoming e-mails to their cellphones so they can read them while away from a computer. Vodafone plans to announce today that the service, already operating in Germany and Italy, will become available throughout Europe during 2005, people familiar with the situation say.
A spokesman for Vodafone declined to comment. A London-based spokesman for Research In Motion had no comment.
Vodafone doesn’t operate wireless service in the U.S., although it holds a 45% stake in Verizon Wireless, a joint venture with Verizon Communications Inc. A spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless said that the company is also broadening its range of push e-mail devices, and that it now offers four handsets, in addition to the BlackBerry, that can handle push e-mail.
U.S. carriers are known to be interested in providing their own push e-mail services in competition with BlackBerry. The move by Vodafone, based in Newbury, England, highlights the cellphone industry’s drive to turn wireless e-mail into a third major revenue stream, alongside voice calls and text-messaging. Other cellphone-service providers are also expanding their e-mail offerings.
In Germany, Vodafone charges users of its push e-mail service â‚¬29 ($37.80) a month for 10 megabytes of data — enough to cover several thousand e-mails.
Although Vodafone has long sold cobranded BlackBerry devices to its customers, it now wants to offer push e-mail to customers who prefer to use handsets from other makers, according to people familiar with its thinking. Vodafone plans eventually to extend the service to a wide range of phones; initially it will be available on high-end handsets from Nokia Corp. and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications Ltd., a joint venture of Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson of Sweden and Sony Corp. of Japan.
Unlike the BlackBerry devices, some of these phones have only numeric keypads, making it more difficult for users to type out full e-mails. But Vodafone officials assume that people will use the handsets mostly to receive e-mail rather than type lengthy missives.
The Vodafone service uses technology supplied by Visto Inc. of Redwood Shores, Calif., one of a clutch of small companies pursuing Research In Motion in the burgeoning market for push e-mail.