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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
Vodafone battles the slump
Man using mobile phone outside Vodafone shop
The days of rapid expansion are over for Vodafone
An aggressive takeover spree has turned Vodafone into Europe's biggest mobile phone company.

And its activities are not confined to Europe.

It is also one of the key operators in the United States, and is building its presence in other parts of the world including Latin America, China and Japan.

The company has 95 million subscribers in 28 countries.

First mobile call

At the height of its powers, in March 2000, Vodafone's shares were trading at 399p making it the largest company on the London stock market.
Key dates
Dec '82 First mobile licence
Jan '85 First mobile call
Jul '88 Shares listed
Jul '99 AirTouch deal
Feb '01 Mannesman deal

Vodafone's shares have fallen sharply since, losing it the number one spot, but it is still a force to be reckoned with.

The company traces its origins back to December 1982, when Racal Electronics was awarded the UK's first mobile phone licence.

It set up a division which became Vodafone.

The new business was launched on New Year's Day, 1985, when it made the UK's first mobile phone call.

Big deal

Three and a half years later, some of its shares were listed in London and New York.

Vodafone became fully independent in September 1991, when its remaining shares were listed.

Vodafone global ambitions were in evidence early on as it collected a lengthening list of partnership agreements and new licences.

Its first major acquisition came in the summer of 1999.


Vodafone took over the US mobile firm AirTouch for approximately 36bn, seeing off another bidder, Bell Atlantic, in the process.

Vodafone's chief executive, Sir Chris Gent, famously got the deal off the ground by using his mobile phone from a cricket match in Australia.

And two months later, the company struck an agreement with Bell Atlantic in the US to create America's largest wireless business.

But those deals turned out to be just a warm-up for the big one.

Rising shares

The German telecoms and engineering company Mannesman was the target.
Sir Chris Gent
Sir Chris Gent is still doing deals

And Vodafone made its move with a hostile bid.

After months of fighting the deal, Mannesman's board eventually agreed to the 112bn takeover.

Vodafone was able to afford these aggressive takeovers because by using its highly-valued shares to finance them.


Telecoms were still booming when the UK government put five next-generation mobile phone licences up for auction.

Vodafone paid nearly 6bn for its licence, and like its rivals, was widely reckoned to have overpaid.

It went on to buy other licences elsewhere in Europe, although these were not as expensive.

But with sentiment turning against high-tech and telecoms shares, Vodafone soon began to lose its lustre.

Rapid expansion

Some of the big shareholders became unhappy with the chief executive's hefty bonuses.

The company's debts were growing and its share price was falling.

In February last year, it lost its place as the biggest company on the London stock market.

It has since cut jobs as part of a move to curb costs.

The company is still making acquisitions and doing deals, but as Sir Chris told shareholders last year, the days of rapid expansion are gone.

The problem for Vodafone is that it is still paying heavily for that rapid expansion.

The BBC's John Moylan
"The uncertainty facing vodafone and its rivals looks set to continue"
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