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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Rivals dismiss Branson claims
Man using mobile phone
Vodafone says it no longer simply counts customers
Sir Richard Branson has said his Virgin Mobile company has proved better at attracting customers than rivals Orange and Vodafone.


I don't want to get into a spat with Sir Richard Branson

Ben Rosier
Orange
The entrepreneur and chairman of Virgin Group was celebrating a claim by his mobile phone business to have signed more than 2 million customers.

"We're the fastest growing mobile phone company in the UK and we have got our 2 millionth customer twice as quick as Orange managed to get theirs," Sir Richard told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But Orange and Vodafone dismissed his comments.

False comparison

Orange spokesman Ben Rosier said: "I don't want to get into a spat with Sir Richard Branson. What matters is our customers.


The mobile phone market today is somewhat different to the 1980s

Vodafone spokesman

"We have got 12.8 million customers and our focus remains on our customers."

Sir Richard said Virgin Mobile had managed to attract 2 million customers in just two years and 10 months, compared with 10 years for Vodafone.

A strong brand

But a Vodafone spokesman said the comparison was unworkable.


Right now I think we are delighted to be away from the public arena

Sir Richard Branson

"The mobile phone market today is somewhat different to the 1980s - the projections then were that we might eventually get 1 million subscribers.

"All credit to what Virgin Mobile have achieved," the spokesman said.

But he emphasised that Vodafone, with its large number of external shareholders, was a very different beast.

Vodafone had already moved away from simply counting numbers of customers, and was concentrating on providing people with more and better services.

But it was a competitive market and Virgin Mobile was "a very strong brand", the spokesman admitted.

Battered share prices

Sir Richard predicted that by the end of the year his mobile business would have made a 15m profit.

Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard is happy to have no shareholders

But this figure does not take into account costs such as interest and tax.

And because Virgin Mobile is a private business, it does not have to publish its figures to the same detail as do its publicly-quoted rivals.

Listed mobile companies have seen their share prices battered as optimism over telecoms earnings has waned.

Virtual operator

Sir Richard's Virgin Group was floated on the London Stock Exchange in the 1980s.

But Sir Richard took the company back into private hands after relations with the City soured.

"Right now I think we are delighted to be away from the public arena," he said on Wednesday.

"We can build companies for the long term in quite a lot of sectors rather than having to answer to shareholders."

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 ON THIS STORY
Sir Richard Branson
"I think that Virgin Mobile is one of the few successes in the mobile phone business"
See also:

21 Sep 02 | Technology
13 Sep 02 | Business
09 Aug 02 | Business
25 Jun 02 | Business
09 May 02 | Business
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