Will there be any takers for Vodafone 555 Blue Facebook handsets in India?

The international trend of bundled phone with services
from telecom operators is receiving more acceptance in India as well. Vodafone
555 Blue, which was launched in the UK earlier, has an integrated Facebook key
and all Facebook features on the home screen.


Targeting youth and other Facebook addicts, Vodafone Blue
is priced at Rs 4,950 and comes bundled with a data plan for unlimited Facebook
access for a year from the date of purchase, and pay-as-you-go data usage
including Facebook, after that. The handset works on an Opera Mini 5 browser,
has a 2.4 inch QVGA screen, QWERTY keypad, optical track pad, 2MP camera with
flash, integrated music player with side activation and 3.5mm jack, Bluetooth,
16 GB expandable memory, a long battery life and two years warranty.


Additionally, other functions like voice calling and SMS
is integrated into the Facebook experience with the home screen made to look
like Facebook pages, with popular Facebook icons on either side of the screen.
Notifications flash automatically on the screen, as do latest news updates and
multiple chat, email and SMS is all available simultaneously. Besides, the
phone also offers integrated phonebook and messaging with Facebook profile,
easy photo uploading and album sync with one click photo sharing. The Facebook
key allows one to configure/set Facebook icons in order of importance or
appearance on the home screen. This makes the phone a totally integrated Facebook


We have been working for the last one year with
Facebook, looking at the growing popularity of social media especially
Facebook, as well as the growing trend of mobile data usage on the mobile. Just
look at the following statistics – 40 percent of India is under the age of 19.
Besides, India is not a homogeneous country, and given the structural
challenges and digital divide in India, bringing relevant services to the
public is a challenge. Vodafone has 140 million subscribers till date, and has
seen a 20 percent growth in data users to 29 million in 2011,” said Kumar
Ramanathan, CMO, Vodafone India.


“We have approximately 5-6 million Vodafone Facebook
users, from India’s total of 22.1 million Facebook users. In addition, this
year has seen a 49 percent growth of Facebook in India. We have also found that
on an average, people spend 55 minutes per day on an average on Facebook, with
50 percent of total Facebook users logging on to Facebook daily. Given these
statistics, it made good business sense to launch a Facebook phone,”
Ramanathan added.


Facebook wants to make every phone social and Vodafone
has taken the integration of Facebook to the next level with the Vodafone
Blue,” said Henri Moissinac, head of Mobile Business, Facebook.


Device strategy will be the most important step for
Vodafone, and the bundled offer with Facebook usage free for a year, is set to
increase other data usage by Vodafone subscribers as well. While Vodafone has
not revealed the details of its revenue-sharing model with Facebook, but
mentioned that the sales of devices will partly contribute to this. In the
first phase, the handset will be available at 4-5,000 retail points, with
widespread distribution of national partners, and retail mapping in 75-80 top
cities, which make up 60-75 percent of the total smart phone base in India.


So far 3G devices make up only 2.5 to 3 percent of the
total ecosystem in India. We strongly believe that 3G is not needed to access
Facebook, and its low cost also makes it available to a larger audience,
especially the age group we are catering to.  However, some of the upgrade
functionalities we are planning in around the next six months along with
developers include exchanging files, cloud services, new hardware features, and
regional language capabilities,” Ramanathan added.


This is the second phone to be launched in India with an
integrated Facebook key. Priced at Rs 15,990, HTC ChaCha was launched last
month in association with Tata DOCOMO. While the Vodafone Blue handset is
available at three times lower the price of the HTC ChaCha, it is a Facebook
phone, with other handset functionalities integrated into the Facebook look. In
contrast, the HTC ChaCha is a smartphone with the Facebook key as merely an
addition, making Facebook access easier. Vodafone Blue also marks the first
time a GSM operator has launched its own low-cost handset in India.


Cost factor drives business in India. Facebook does not
have any strong competitor in the world. Indian youth is becoming addicted to
Facebook. We expect more operators joining the Facebook phone league in coming


By Beryl M
[email protected]