back to article Vodafone CEO sticks head in sand, goes 'La la la'

Arun Sarin has told the FT that he has nothing to fear from Apple's iPhone/iTunes combination, or Google's Android, or even Nokia's Ovi, as no one can ever take their customers' billing relationship away from them. Network operators have long felt no one could compete in providing services to their customers - they have the …


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  1. Bruno Girin
    Thumb Down

    The billing relationship can also be the problem

    What Vodafone's CEO also seems to forget is that this same billing relationship is a double-edged sword. One of the first thing I will do when my Vodafone contract expires at the beginning of next year is ask for my PAC code and go shopping for a better deal... after having had a 'billing relationship' with Vodafone for 8 years. Precisely because that relationship is not particularly great and indeed has turned for the worse in recent months.

    So let him go 'la la la', that's fine by me.

  2. Eileen Bach

    Sarin's gas isn't hot air

    He's got a point because even with wi-fi, etc, one still has to connect through the pipework somewhere, especially if p2p or m2m I think.Then there's roaming international pipework stuff and that.Probebly.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is this the same Arun Sarin ?

    that out-sourced all his CRM staff to IBM and EDS (see El Reg passim)? Is that the best recipe for innovative solutions ?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Er Arun, tell me something...

    The biggest single moneyspinner in the mobile market in recent years has been related to premium SMS services (ringtones, etc). Who owns the relationship (billing or otherwise) there? Who invented that market, who made the big money there? Was it the operators like you, or was it the (yeuch) content providers?

  5. Jussi Heinonen

    Relationship vanishes along with customers

    "The simple fact that we have the customer and billing relationship is a hugely powerful thing that nobody can take away from us,"

    I disagree. This relationship vanishes along with customers.

    I visited Vodafone branch today to ask about upgrade options as my contract is due to renewal. What they had to offer wasn't satisfying. The advice from the customer service rep was to make a new contract with them and then they give me better deal. The "only" downside is that I cannot keep my old number. That is a problem. But, as my contract period has come to the end I'm free to transfer my number to other operator and get better deal from them. So I thanked the sales rep and walked to 3 shop opposite side of the street. The service in 3 shop was surprisingly good and price plans by far more compelling than VF's. I even witnessed close to flawless Skype-on-mobile demo.

    Still yesterday I didn't think I had any reason to browse around and look for better deals but my experience today taught me that as Vodafone is not making any effort to keep existing customers happy why should I be "a loyal customer" and stick with them.

    Vodafone is a good brand but as I'm not a big fan of labels (rather paying for services) I think it is time for change and end this "customer and billing relationship".

  6. Richard Kilpatrick
    Jobs Halo

    A market shift?

    Currently we still buy contracts and service from the operators of the networks - a bit like buying gas directly from Transco, except we have more choice than that. They do, however, have roaming facilities to extend coverage, and billing mechanisms so other "operators" like Carphone Warehouse, Tesco, Virgin et al can piggyback/offer alternative deals.

    Vodafone and O2 will, eventually, have to compete on data as Three realised, and T-Mobile pretty much dominate. But what is interesting with the iPhone is Apple's relationship with the operators.

    Apple gets a revenue share - reported on El Reg indeed as being around/up to 30%. Remember the rumours that Apple were going to set up their own network to support the iPhone infrastructure, since the iPhone is itself a vital tool for Apple's media presence. Instead of setting their own network, establish a relationship and stable infrastructure with a dominant network (notice that they have chosen O2, formerly BT Cellnet, for the UK - and T-Mobile, which I believe was Germany's "national" network for that territory. Choosing Orange for France basically covers the main ones whilst ignoring both Vodafone and Three - curiously operators that have expressed some interest in media distibution themselves) then eventually market the iPhone with a dedicated "Apple" tariff, perhaps tied in with the useful .Mac services (backup your iPhone to .Mac? Stolen phone, but don't lose your purchased content?).

    iTMS works brilliantly on the iPhone. A few years ago, when iPod connectivity in cars was "a power cable and a tape adaptor", I wondered about the possibility of replacing the stand of overpriced, limited music and audiobooks in service stations with an "iTunes Terminal". Log in, plug in your iPod with a secondary sync mechanism (iPhone has this - it puts purchased music BACK on your Mac), buy. Apple could pay for the terminals to be present or offer value added services such as net browsing with revenue for the service area operator.

    Anyway, that idea obviously wasn't well developed in my head, but Apple have leafrogged it. I've got my terminal RIGHT HERE. It's the same device that plugs into the car radio and is controlled by the touchscreen on my cheap Halfords head unit, and is also my in-car phone (okay, that's a lie, the lack of voice dial means I can take a call when driving, but my trusty Ameo with MS Voice Command does the call initiation).

    YouTube? Free? It's the best way to trial distribution of video to the handset. How are people liking the quality and speed? Need more? How can we deliver? Maybe iPhone 2.0 will have 16GB, and 3G... and online TV-show purchases. It has video output - it is as functional as any iPod in that regard. Does the connection remain stable enough to deliver Apple's "quality" of product?

    The networks might move faster. WM devices can do this stuff with the right applications, though I hesitate to suggest they will manage to do it as well - for all the power the Ameo offers, it's a buggy, unreliable thing where camera, video and general media behaviour is concerned.

    Apple just works. I expect that will extend to Apple's remarketed telecommunications network in 2013 as much as it applies to everything else they do.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Arun Sarin is doomed anyway!

    I don't know what people cry about!

    Arun Sarin is doomed!

    Vodafone (partly thanks to him) has several billing systems, (I am not sure how many but more than five) in the UK alone!

    There is no way to find out real numbers from their accounting and billing systems because there are bits and pieces everywhere!

    Instead of trying to put down his foot and get things sorted out, he just just made things worse.

    In their marketing departments one hand doesn't know what the other hand does and instead of listening to customers, they just create deals they "think" their customers will go for.

    But also customer service is in shambles (that's with all of them) whether it is for consumer or business. because instead of building a proper customer relationship, accounts get handed over after six months to someone who either doesn't care or has no clue!

    BTW: I am not a disgruntled Vodafone employee.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    @ Richard Kilpatrick

    ...showing off

    i've go an iphone

    i've got an ameo

    piss off

    not jealous(of the iphone, but want an ameo)




  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Is this the same billing system...

    ... which reprograms itself to process bills ignoring extras packs which have been paid for by customers? For example I buy a monthly extras pack of 600 texts, and am charged for it. However I am also being charged full price for all texts as the option pack is not being processed by the billing system.

    I've been trying for almost a month now to get my small business account adjusted for the last 2 bills. Customer Services agree it is wrong, but I have now been promised twice that the error will be corrected but it has not happened. I suppose I should be charging interest on the

    I'd vote with my feet bar the fact that Voodoofone have the only usable network in the vicinity of my offices.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Billing 'relationships'

    "no one can ever take their customers' billing relationship away from them"

    Unfortunately, they believe this even when you're no longer a customer... I gave the required notice, explicit instructions to terminate my contract on it's end date etc etc. Still they feel they have the right to demand payment for an extra month's line rental AND charge and early termination fee.

    Of course, I'd already terminated my direct debit, so I politely told them to 'filesystem check' off... Now I'm just looking forward to them trying to take me to court!!

    Now, the thing we all really want to know: does Paris Hilton offer a 'billing relationship'?

  11. David Peek
    Thumb Down

    Moving On

    Having made enquiries with Vodafone over an upgrade and being offered the same or worse deals than a new user, this customer will be asking for the code to port my phone number this weekend.

  12. Richard Kilpatrick


    Ameo = good value on T-Mobile, ignore the on-site prices and get one in store, there are discounts for Web 'n' Walk plans and taking the insurance (which if you have suitable home insurance, you then cancel right away). It's the sort of device which simultaneously makes a case for and against iPhone, being powerful, cheap on contract, and also quite inconvenient in many situations. My own choice of phone and one that made me get a new contract without complaining at all!

    iPhone = had to. I only have the handset, no contract (it is on PayG O2 and Jailbroken, was very easy to implement but the data connection is crap - that's O2 all over, though), but that's enough for me to be able to write about it. My opinion of it has changed as I work with it - initially I thought it was totally pointless and very poor value, but the more I mess with it, the more I think that as a jailbroken device I'd probably be happier with it than the Ameo for most things. It fits in a pocket and doesn't need a headset for starters!

  13. Slim

    Billing 'relationships' my a**e

    The single worst thing about VF is their "billing relationship".

    If it wasnt the fact that they are the only service provider i can get a signal with at home i would have left them years ago. every year when my upgrade is due, i get offered a worse phone then the one i already have (honestly waiting for them to offer me the mobilephone that had its battery housed in a brief case!) i get told that my current tarrif no longer exits so i have to change to a "new" tarrif (but not one of the new ones that they are advertising you dont get any rewards for staying with VF only new customers do,) one which doesnt do what i want it to do. then they top it off by messing my billing/direct debit up and have managed to shread my credit rating into oblivion.

    The funniest thing about all of this though, is that everyone i know who is with VF has had worse treatment then me!

    arun can stick his billing up his relationship hole if he thinks no one can take his customers away from him. as soon as another service provider can get a signal, theres at least 8 customers who will be leaving when they do

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Agree on network coverage..........

    As "Slim' says And I agree the only real reason for being with VF is they are the best network coverage for us at home. I switched to VF from Orange last february simply for that reason. I was very disapointed by the range of seemingly archaic or "childish' phones offered by VF and the tariffs and billing seemed no different from any other provider. Roll on July 08 when I can switch over and get an I phone, even if I can't make calls at home at least I will have a fantastic bit of kit to learn about and play with instead!

  15. Ian

    The billing relationship - worked well for AOL

    Isn't the fact that they "owned the billing relationship" the old crud that AOL used to wheel out in the late 90s? And look what happened there - broadband access isn't at all commoditised now.....mind you, respect to TW/AOL for having the balls to write down $55bn in one go a few years back ;-)

    I have to agree that Vodafone has headed southwards in the past year or so - their billing system is sha**ed. Every month my bill is wrong, every month I ring them and they agree and yet I simply can't get a corrected bill out of them. I wouldn't mind so much but wherever I've tried to use the poxy 3G cards I never get more than a dialup style trickle anyway. I've pretty much given up on the things.

    I too will be delighted to terminate my billing relationship asap! Yesterday copuld not be too early.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    They don't care, the mobile companies, because they're all as bad as one another. They would all rather bend over backwards to get new customers than treat their existing ones less than shabbily.

    Every upgrade is worse if you stay with the same provider. No provider offers the same deals via their Internet channel as through their retail outlets. They would all rather continue to take an extra fiver a month for a year than keep you paying them £30 a month forever.

    They all suck and I will be going PAYG when renewal time comes.

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