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Fri, May 19, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Vodafone and Softbank ink mobile partnership deal

AP , TOKYO

British mobile carrier Vodafone PLC and Japanese Internet services company Softbank are setting up a 50-50 joint venture to develop mobile phones, services and content, mostly for Japan, the companies said yesterday.

The new deal gives Vodafone a way to hang onto a piece of its phone business in Japan after it agreed in March to sell its Japanese mobile phone unit, which had been struggling, to Softbank Corp.

Under this latest agreement, signed yesterday by Vodafone Chief Executive Arun Sarin and Softbank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son, the companies will work together to develop and purchase handsets, create software as well as make and distribute mobile content.

Both sides will provide four members each, including Sarin and Son, for the board of the new joint venture, which will be capitalized at up to ¥11 billion (US$100 million).

"It is very natural for us to come together because the Japanese market is an innovative market," Sarin told reporters at a Tokyo hotel. "We are participating in every major economy around the world."

Softbank also said that its new mobile phone unit will change its name to Softbank Mobile Corp from Vodafone Japan KK sometime in October.

Son said some Vodafone handsets offered in Japan didn't answer Japanese consumers' needs, but that will change under his control and the joint venture.

"We hope to grow not only in the Japanese market but also globally by working with Vodafone," Son told reporters.

Vodafone's mobile service in Japan had 15.2 million users as of the end of March, trailing the market leaders NTT DoCoMo and KDDI Corp.

The Japanese mobile company, still named Vodafone KK, said it will offer new cost-saving mobile services for companies that combine wireless networks for Internet telephony, to use while workers are in the office, and mobile services once workers leave the office.

It also said it will start selling in the summer a handset on which people can watch digital TV broadcasts. Such broadcasts are already being watched by some Japanese who own handsets from NTT DoCoMo as well as other portable devices.

The competition among mobile companies in Japan is expected to intensify further in the fall, when consumers in Japan will be allowed to switch carriers without changing their phone numbers.

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