by Rory Kelleher

The Eircell brand is likely to be changed to Eircell-Vodafone and then to a single Vodafone brand after a year. These events are dependent on the completion of the impending Vodafone take-over of Eircell.

Vodafone announced on Wednesday that it wanted to establish a global brand which it would introduce to all its controlled subsidiaries worldwide.

The company said "During 2002, a single Vodafone brand will be introduced to these networks, facilitating customer recognition of the Vodafone network wherever they are."

A spokesperson for Vodafone said there was no reason to think that this policy would differ in Ireland if the take-over of Eircell is completed.

Vodafone has already introduced dual branding throughout its European subsidiaries, including D2-Vodafone in Germany and Telesell-Vodafone in Portugal.

A spokeswoman for Eircom said she could not comment on the issue until the deal with Vodafone is completed.

A Vodafone statement said that "the aim is to leverage the benefits of its global footprint realising the potential of Vodafone as a single worldwide group, rather than a collection of separate operating entities."

Vodafone also announced that by the second quarter this year, it will have GPRS services available in all its subsidiaries.

Vodafone has GPRS systems already in operation in Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, Portugal and Austria.

The company's Spanish subsidiary Airtel is due to launch its 3G network in the third quarter of this year with other markets expected to follow in 2002.

Vodafone said the introduction of 3G technology is not solely about faster data rates. The additional spectrum afforded to 3G will enable the company to handle the continuing growth in customers and dramatic increases in usage per subscriber in both voice and data.

This additional spectrum will be crucial if the take-up of data services worldwide is to match that in Japan according to Vodafone.

The lack of availability of GPRS handsets has been one of the biggest barriers to the introduction of services, but the company said that by April it will have commercial deliveries of handsets in a variety of forms including Phones, PDAs and PC cards from Motorola, Samsung, Sagem and Trium.

These devices will offer a number of GPRS channels, ranging from 2 to 4, and offering data rates of up to 48kbps.

From June to September, additional product launches will be seen from Ericsson, Siemens, Sagem, Samsung and Panasonic, extending the range of devices available to over 30 according to Vodafone.