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Wednesday, 17 May, 2000, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Europe's first multi-access web portal
Mobile phone giant Vodafone Airtouch, French media conglomerate Vivendi and broadcaster Canal+ have unveiled Vizzavi, which they say is Europe's first multi-access internet portal.


We hope Vizzavi will not just be the internet in your pocket but in your hand

Jean-Marie Messier, Vivendi chairman

The new site will be the default portal for more than 70 million customers across Europe and enable them to browse and shop online through various channels - their computer, Wap phone and interactive television set.

For retailers and service providers, the Vodafone/Vivendi alliance should give them maximum customer reach while dealing with only one partner.

The portal is expected to launch with more than 200 services, including personalised services such as e-mail, address book and calendar, and content like sport, games and information services.

Chris Gent and Jean Marie Messier
Vodafone's Chris Gent and Vivendi's Jean Marie Messier surprised the telecom world with their alliance

Vivendi and Vodafone hope to provide voice recognition, designed to give drivers traffic directions and read out their e-mails while they are on the move.

Another service would allow users to take part in video conferences or send video messages once third-generation mobile phones become available.

Vizzavi will be launched in France within the next few weeks, in the UK in July, and in Germany and Italy by the end of the year.

Flotation plans


Vizzavi is "my vis--vis" - a personal companion that knows the users well and opens up their world in a simple, personal and fun manner

Vivendi statement

The partners plan to float Vizzavi on the stock market within two years.

Evan Newmark, the firm's managing director, spelled out the reasons: "We want Vizzavi to have its own people and its own currency."

If the flotation is a success, Vizzavi shares will allow it to gobble up rivals, while stock options are an important incentive to attract talented staff.

The new firm will have its headquarters in London.

Walled garden

For Wap phone and interactive television customers, the online experience tends to be a throw-back to the early days of the internet, when online service providers offered their users access to only a "walled garden" and not a true internet.

Binding users into a multi-access portal, Vodafone and Vivendi can hope to make the most of their telecoms and television investments.

Consumers will value the convenience, but may be unhappy with the limits of what will be on offer.

Strategic alliance

The details of the deal between Vodafone and VivendiNet, a joint venture between Vivendi and Canal+, are due to be made public in Paris at 1300 GMT (1500 local time).

Vodafone and Vivendi first announced their plans for a joint portal four months ago, during Vodafone's takeover battle for German mobile phone firm Mannesmann.

Vivendi had been seen as a possible "white knight" that could save Mannesmann from Vodafone's unwanted attention.

However, in a spectacular, hastily convened news conference Vivendi sided with Vodafone. Soon after, the hostile takeover battle ended with Mannesmann's surrender.

Vodafone's Chris Gent and Vivendi's Jean Marie Messier described the alliance as a "major strategic accord".

Mr Gent promised shareholders that the two companies would "develop one of Europe's leading internet businesses".

50-50

At the time, Vivendi and Vodafone said they would create and jointly own a branded, multi-access portal.

They promised to negotiate the details of the deal by 30 June.

In internet time, this is a long period and the fact that both companies are ready to make an announcement now shows that they have realised the urgency of the situation.

Since its merger with Mannesmann, Vodafone has had a strong presence in the UK, Germany and Italy, while Vivendi and Canal+ dominate in markets like France, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium.

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30 Jan 00 | Business
Vodafone blow against Mannesmann
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