Razorfish wins Vodafone WAP brief

Vodafone hires Razorfish to drive mobile Net strategy and transform handsets into Internet portals.

Fresh from its victory over German rival Mannesmann, Vodafone Airtouch has appointed leading Web agency Razorfish to spearhead its mobile Internet strategy.

Details of an exact launch date are being kept under wraps but the two companies have revealed that Razorfish “will develop user experience specifications” for the mobile telephone giant.

This means transforming Vodafone’s handsets into portals which can deliver a wide range of digital information, from trading and banking to flight booking. They will also offer calendar capabilities, e-mail, games, news and listings information for movies, hotels and restaurants.

Vodafone vice-president of marketing Bill Bettencourt says: “We needed a solutions provider with mobile knowledge and experience of developing wireless platforms. Razorfish’s creativity and solid focus on the user experience made it the obvious choice for this initiative.”

Bertrand Man, head of mobile solutions at Razorfish, describes the planned product as “a powerful tool to help busy people stay in touch, keep organised, and realise efficiencies in their daily lives.”

Other companies involved in the project include commerce services group Infospace.com, financial services firm Charles Schwab, and travel company Travelocity.com/Sabre.

Razorfish is also working separately with NatWest and Orange on wireless Internet strategies.

The problem with current mobile Internet technology – the much-hyped Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) – is that it is very basic in its pixelation and graphics, very slow (a 9.6k modem compared with the now standard 56k modem in home computers), and unreliable because of mobile phone connectivity problems.

However, all this is set to change with the introduction of next-generation wireless technologies, which may happen within two years.

Vodafone spokesman Mike Caldwell says the company is co-ordinating the work from its California office and plans to allow customers to use the same Internet phones from at least 25 countries. This means they will be able to access the same services by pressing the same buttons, no matter which country they happen to be in.

Vodafone’s recently announced sponsorship of Manchester United was designed to reinforce its mobile Internet future. It believes the ability to access breaking football news through WAP phones, and ultimately to offer audio reports and video goal replays, will be a key plank in its strategy to popularise the new products.

Agency.com, the US-based international Web agency, has been appointed by Carphone Warehouse to work on its WAP strategy. The mobile phone retailer has set up a new division, Mob-e.com, to co-ordinate the work.

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