Vodafone Italy offers multiparty mobile service

Leave it to the talkative Italians to introduce a new mobile phone service that allows up to nearly a dozen users to join a wireless conference call and pay only for their portion of the call.

Vodafone Italy SpA (formerly Vodafone Omnitel SpA) commercially launched a new multiparty voice conferencing service that targets consumers and small businesses after testing the service for the past three months, said Mauro Bartalini, marketing director at the Italian subsidiary of Telsis Ltd., a Fareham, England, vendor that developed the conferencing technology.

Unlike existing Global System for Mobile Communications conference services that require the speaker to stay on the line for the duration of the call and connect all conference participants, the Telsis system allows participants to connect other users themselves and continue talking even if the originator exits the conference call, according to Bartalini.

“Initially, Vodafone Italy has limited the number of conference callers to 10 but our technology can handle at least 20,” he said. “What makes the service attractive is that the conference call initiator isn’t the only person who can dial in other people, so this adds flexibility. And each user pays for his or her own call, which is particularly appealing to budget-conscious consumers.”

Most other mobile conference call services in Italy limit the number of participants to five and require the conference initiator to pay for the call, according to Bartalini.

Vodafone Italy’s multiparty service is relatively cheap – a set-up charge of 0.15 euros (US$0.17) and 0.05 euros per minute per call – and is easier to set up than existing conference call services, said Michael Ransom, a wireless analyst with Current Analysis Inc. Moreover, the service could help break young subscribers’ Short Message Service habits, which have reduced the operator’s average revenue per user growth potential, he said.

Telsis is in talks with mobile operators across Europe to deploy the technology, according to Bartalini. “The other three mobile phone operators in Italy are pretty interested in our technology, especially now that Vodafone Italy has introduced it,” he said.