Vodafone unites social networks

Vodafone has launched a suite of net services for mobile and PCs, aimed at grabbing a slice of a market currently dominated by Apple, Google and Nokia.

Vodafone 360, as it is known, unites customer's contacts with information from social networks such as Facebook.

It replaces the company's previous web offering, Vodafone Live!

It will initially be launched in eight European countries and has been optimised for two new handsets from manufacturer Samsung.

Four more handsets from Nokia will be preloaded with a version of the service.

"This is Vodafone getting deeply involved in handsets," Ian Fogg, an analyst at Forrester Research told BBC News.

He said that users with a Vodafone branded handset would get the "full fat" version of the new service, whilst others would get a trimmed-down offering.

'Natural evolution'

At "the heart" of the new service was the address book he said, which pulls together mobile, messaging and social networking contacts from services such as Facebook, Windows Live Messenger and Google Talk.

"They are making it easy to communicate across the internet," said Mr Fogg.

He said it was similar to products from Apple, Motorola, Palm and HTC which build social networking into the handset.

The feature reflects the rise in people communication via the internet, as opposed to voice calls.

The address book - known as Vodafone People - will not be limited to Vodafone customers.

"If you want to build a community, it's much easier if anyone can join."

He said the decision to allow it to run on any network was a "smart move" by Vodafone, as it allowed customers to continue to use the service, even if they defected to another carrier.

Elements of the service can sync with customers on a PC or Mac.

The new service will also allow users to access more than 1,000 applications.

Applications have become the main stay of smart phones after Apple launched its App Store for its iPhone; it now offers more than 65,000 applications, created by third-party developers. More than 3bn have been downloaded since it launched.

Google has also opened up an application store for phones, which use its Android operating system, with Nokia and Blackberry also following suit. Microsoft is expected to launch a similar service soon.

The popularity of apps has meant that network operators, such as Vodafone, are carrying more and more data traffic but with little additional revenue.

Mr Fogg said offering apps and other services, such as music and maps, was a "natural evolution" for the firm.

Vodafone is one of the largest mobile networks and currently has 315 million subscribers.

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