Vodafone relies on angry travellers for revival
Global roaming fees are rapidly becoming the new battleground for mobile customers, and it's one area where Vodafone claims to have the advantage over Optus and Telstra.
Vodafone has been lagging behind its competitors since its network collapsed in late 2010 under the weight of too many smartphones requesting data on a network suffering from under-investment. Customer accounts slipped from 7.4 million in 2010 to 6 million this June.
But Vodafone recently announced roaming plans for a $5-a-day pack in New Zealand, Britain and the US, though pricing details were not expected until later this week, putting the company back in the market.
Vodafone chief executive Bill Morrow says the network has been improved, customer service is changing, and global roaming is its new advantage.
"It is more difficult for them [Optus and Telstra] to do [roaming] than us. We don't have the fixed networks. [But] we have two shareholders that have the largest networks in the world," he said, referring to owners Vodafone Plc and Hutchison Telecommunications, which operates the Three brand.
Until now mobile companies had fought over network coverage, data speeds and bundles and price.
And last week Optus also said it would soon offer a $10-a-day "travel pack", giving travellers to New Zealand, the Pacific islands, Europe, Britain, the US, Canada and Asia unlimited calls, texts and 30 megabytes of data.
Meanwhile, Telstra, which prides itself on network coverage and performance, has been left out.
Australians, who make about 8 million trips overseas every year, the bureau of statistics reported in June, have become increasingly irate at the extortionate cost of using a mobile device overseas.
Mr Morrow, who previously ran Vodafone's Europe, Britain and Japan businesses, said he had asked fellow Vodafone executives to give his Australian customers a better price. "There was nothing I had to convince them of," he said. "They recognise that this roaming issue is more than an Australian issue."
He was helped by the global chief executive Vittorio Colao, who wants Vodafone's global subsidiaries to work more closely. "[Colao] has zero tolerance for protecting one market in favour of another," said Mr Morrow, who has been in the job for 17 months and has the difficult task of rebuilding Vodafone Hutchison Australia into a trusted and desirable brand. About 45 per cent of the workforce has been retrenched and more than half the top executives have changed since the end of 2011.
Mr Morrow said Vodafone was one year into a three-year turnaround plan that should halt the slide in customer numbers early next year.