Vodafone chief still coy on US plans

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Arun Sarin, chief executive of Vodafone, on Tuesday insisted the company’s
decision to stay in the US was a “good idea” but signalled again that the mobile group might consider withdrawing.

Mr Sarin has come under intense pressure from some of the group’s biggest shareholders recently to pull out of the US, where it owns 45 per cent of Verizon Wireless.

Shareholders are concerned about the group’s strategic direction and its poor stock market performance and want the group to increase its cash returns.

A sale to controlling shareholder Verizon Communications, which is a willing buyer, could raise up to £30bn ($52bn).

Mr Sarin told reporters in Barcelona on the fringes of 3GSM, the world’s largest annual mobile gathering, that Vodafone’s board would continue to periodically evaluate its position in the US.

“We want to stay in this asset,” Mr Sarin said. “This is not to say that the board over a period of time might not change its mind . . . We are looking at this from a net value delivered to shareholders [basis].”

Mr Sarin’s leadership has been questioned by a number of shareholders but the brief question and answer session was brought to an end before he could be asked about his future.

Mr Sarin said the value of Vodafone’s Verizon stake had grown by as much as $20bn over two years.

Vodafone also announced a partnership with Google to feature the internet company’s search engine in its Vodafone Live portal.

Google already provides a similar service with T-Mobile, the German mobile phone operator. However unlike that partnership, Google will not be the “home page” for Vodafone Live users, but will be accessible via an icon on the service.

T-Mobile’s deal with Google reflects its more open approach to mobile access to the internet.

Operators have invested heavily in 3G networks that enable faster data downloads and are seeking to recoup the money with more add-on services, such as music downloads.

T-Mobile said on Tuesday it would begin implementing a software upgrade to its networks in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands which will vastly improve data download speeds. The upgrade will more than double speeds for 3G users to over 1Mb/second.

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