Vodafone Group Plc launched its first own-branded 3G handsets on Thursday, as the mobile phone giant tries to expand in the market for higher-paying third-generation services by luring more pre-pay users.
Huawei Technologies , China's largest network gear maker, would supply the Vodafone 710 clamshell phone, the first in a series of similar own-branded handsets that it plans to source from Asian vendors, Vodafone said.
Vodafone's tie-up with Huawei underscores a rising trend among European networks: tapping lower-cost Asian suppliers for "white-label" phones on which they stamp their own names.
Such handsets typically cost a third less than those sourced from more established handset brands, while giving operators the flexibility to customize phones to their own services.
"We are very confident we can deliver against that in the next couple of months, especially for the Christmas season in Europe which is the peak season of our sales," Jens Schulte-Bockum, Vodafone's Global Director of Terminals, told reporters in Hong Kong.
Vodafone, the world's third-largest telecoms provider by market value, is looking at orders for at least 200,000 of the handsets over the next six months, priced about 30 percent cheaper than comparable devices, the executive said without revealing specifics.
"The typical price range for a handset like this is around US$200, and this is about 30 percent lower," he said, adding that street prices for consumers depended on local subsidies.
Vodafone said the new handset, which includes an MP3 music player, a 1.3-megapixel camera and Bluetooth, would allow customers easier access to services such as mobile TV, music downloads and video telephony.
It plans to launch the new phone in all of its major Western European markets early next month.
Vodafone was also in talks with other cellphone manufacturers in the Asia Pacific, but Schulte-Bockum declined to specify any.
A second 3G handset was targeted for early summer of next year, the executive added.
Vodafone has moved part of its terminal operations from Japan to Hong Kong, to spearhead the sourcing of new devices.