By Kate Holton
LONDON, April 18 Vodafone unveiled a
raft of changes to its pricing model on Thursday, moving more
towards an American-style system to help protect its income from
technologies offering rival services over the Internet.
The changes are designed to deter customers from choosing
popular "over-the-top" services such as Skype, What's App and
Viber to message friends for free.
The world's second-biggest mobile phone operator said it
would offer its Vodafone Red package across its 14 European
markets, enabling customers to pay a monthly fee dependent on
how much data they want to use, which includes unlimited calls
and text messages for free.
By the end of the year, the British firm will also allow
customers to take multi-device plans and family plans, which
offer customers extra devices and extra family members at a
discount to individual mobile plans.
The new pricing approach aims to simplify the billing
process for customers who own smartphones, laptops and tablet
computers and want to access the Internet on the go.
The changes also show the influence Vodafone's partnership
with Verizon Communications is having on the British
firm, as such data plans are more common in the United States.
The two groups have a joint venture in the U.S. called
Verizon Wireless, the country's largest mobile operator, but
speculation has mounted that Vodafone could exit the partnership
to generate cash to invest in Europe.
Vodafone Chief Executive Vittorio Colao has said he has an
open mind on keeping the stake, but he has repeatedly said the
group benefits from its ties in the U.S., where the telecoms
market is seen as more healthy than Europe, with higher margins
as consumers make more phone calls and pay more for data.
Vodafone said in February that more than 2 million customers
had signed up to its Red package in five countries including
Britain and Germany.