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Company history

At Vodafone, we have an extraordinary 23-year history in pioneering mobile communications. Here are some of the highlights so far.

As Chairman of the Racal Radio Group in 1982, Gerald Whent had the vision and fortitude to convince the Racal Electronics Group Board that it should bid for the private sector UK Cellular licence that was then being offered by the UK government. Whent masterminded the successful bid, and went on to set up the Racal Telecomms Division. ’Vodafone’ was then chosen as the name of the network, to reflect the provision of voice and data services over mobile phones.

The Vodafone analogue network was launched on 1 January 1985, the first call being made from St Katherine’s Dock in London to Newbury. It was the first cellular network to launch in the UK.

In the Beginning: 1982-1990

1987: Vodafone is acknowledged as the largest mobile communications company in the world.

Value added services are added such as recall, the voicemail service, and the first information lines: Financial Times CityLine and the AA’s Roadwatch.

1988: Racal Telecomms Plc floats.

Racal Telecomms Division demonstrates its success and profitability - it accounts for a third of Racal’s profits in this year. 20% of the ordinary share capital of Racal Telecomms Division is floated on the London and New York Stock Exchanges at 170p per share.

1989: Building up the network.

Network coverage and capacity continue to increase. A back-up network is introduced to minimise the effects of any faults occurring.

The Early Days: 1991-1996

1991: Racal & Vodafone demerge. The Vodafone Group is listed as an independent company on the London and New York stock exchanges.

Vodafone and Telecom Finland make the world’s first international roaming call. Vodafone’s digital (GSM) mobile phone service is launched - the first such service in the UK.

1993: First high street Vodafone store opens. The company also announces its first distribution agreement with Comet, a major UK high street retailer.

International partnerships are also formed with consortia in Germany, South Africa, Australia, Fiji and Greece. This results in the formation of Vodafone Group International, which goes on to acquire further licences and supervise overseas interests.

1994: Data, fax and SMS digital services are launched. Vodata becomes the first network operator in the UK to launch these services over a digital network.

1996: Vodafone is the first to launch a pay as you go analogue package in the UK. It requires no contract and no credit check.

Going Global: 1997-1999

1997: A new identity

As a new Vodafone corporate identity is unveiled, our 100th roaming agreement is announced. Vodafone’s ‘Pay As You Talk’ digital package also launches, offering no bills, no credit check, no fixed term contract and advanced digital services. Plans are announced to seek a new headquarters site just outside of Newbury.

1998: A new chairman

The Millennium Share Options Scheme is announced, which gives all U employees share options to the value of half their basic salary as of 1 July 1998. Lord MacLaurin, former chairman of Tesco, becomes the new chairman of the Vodafone Group.

The Misrfone consortium, in which Vodafone holds a 30% interest, is awarded the licence to build a second mobile network in Egypt.

Vodafone purchases the New Zealand GSM network.

1999: Vodafone AirTouch is created: an engine for growth in the 21st Century.

Vodafone AirTouch is created out of the merger between Vodafone Group and the US group AirTouch Communications Inc on 30 June 1999.

The company is now one of the top 25 companies in the world. At the end of September 1999, Vodafone AirTouch Plc had over 31 million cellular customers worldwide, and interests in 24 countries across five continents.

Adding Value: 2000-2003

2000: Vodafone acquires part of German company Mannesmann AG. Our effective interest in both Mannesmann Mobilfunk and Omnitel Pronto Italia has since increased to approximately 99.1% and 76% respectively.

Vizzavi is launched, a 50/50 joint venture between Vodafone AirTouch and VivendiNet which delivers a multi-access branded Internet portal for Europe.

Vodafone's enlarged Group is now the largest mobile telecommunications company in the world and one of the top ten companies, by market capitalisation, in the world.

Verizon Wireless launches - a combination of Vodafone AirTouch’s and Bell Atlantic’s US cellular, PCS and paging assets. Verizon Wireless ranks as the market leader in the US wireless industry, serving more than 23 million customers and covering 96 of the top 100 US markets. Vodafone Group has a 45% interest in Verizon Wireless .

Vodafone in the UK acquires the largest available 3G licence. It also announces its intention to offer  GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) to corporate customers.

The Globalstar satellite communications service is launched in the UK.

Vodafone is Globalstar’s largest service provider partner and offers the Globalstar service in the UK, US, Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada, Australia, Southern Africa and Greece.

2001: Vodafone acquires Ireland’s leading mobile communications company, Eircell.

Vodafone and China Mobile (Hong Kong) Ltd (CHMK) sign a "strategic alliance agreement". The Group completes the acquisition of a 25% stake in Swisscom Mobile.

Vodafone acquires British Telecommunication Plc’s 17.8% shareholding in Airtel Movil S.A., increasing its shareholding to 91.6%.

Vodafone introduces instant messaging to its networks, a faster and more efficient way to communicate using text messages via SMS or WAP.

Vodafone launches its first global communications campaign at the beginning of August. The campaign features TV, cinema, print, online and outdoor media, each version asking the question, “How are you?”.

Telecel Vodafone and Airtel Vodafone migrate to a single Vodafone brand.

In November Vodafone opens its China office in Beijing and Hong Kong. The opening coincides with China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation.

Vodafone announces its first Vodafone Partner Agreement with TDC Mobil A/S, Denmark’s leading mobile operator. The agreement is the first of its kind in the mobile industry and means Vodafone and TDC Mobil will cooperate in developing, marketing and advertising international roaming products and services to international travellers and corporate customers.

Vodafone closes the year by making the word’s first 3G roaming call (between Spain and Japan).

2002: Vodafone trials its global mobile payment system in the UK, Italy and Germany. The trial enables customers to purchase physical and digital goods using their mobile phone.

In January, Panafon Vodafone migrates to the single Vodafone brand.

Vodafone signs Ericsson as a global Multimedia Messaging Supplier (MMS). MMS is an evolution of SMS, allowing customers to send and receive messages using text, pictures, audio and video.

Vodafone signs a Vodafone Partner Agreement with Oy Radiolinja Ab, the leading private mobile operator in Finland.

In March Vodafone launches the first commercial European GPRS roaming service. Customers are able to seamlessly access services such as corporate e-mail, intranet and personalised information on their mobile phones, laptops or PDAs over GPRS.

In June the Vodafone Group Foundation is launched. In 2002, the Group and its subsidiaries plan to contribute £20 million to community programmes, guided by the Group Social Investment Policy.

In July Vodafone launches the world’s first pre-paid top up for international travellers. This allows Vodafone customers to top up their pre-paid mobiles when abroad.

In August Vodafone acquires Vivendi’s 50% stake in Vizzavi. Vodafone now owns 100% of Vizzavi.

Vodafone signs a partner agreement with MTC, the leading mobile operator in Kuwait.

Eurocall Platinum launches in September, a new Eurocall option offering greater value to high volume roaming customers.

Vodafone agrees to acquire BT’s 26% and SBC’s 15% Cegetel interests.

At a presentation on 24 October, Vodafone announces the launch of Vodafone live!, a new consumer proposition, and Mobile Office, a new business proposition. The new services lay the foundations for the next stage in Vodafone’s strategic development.

On 19 November, Vodafone Remote Access is launched as part of Mobile Office. The service gives business customers an easy way to connect to their corporate LAN to access e-mail, calendar and other business specific applications whilst on the move.

The partnership network agreement with Radiolinja Eesti AS is extended into Estonia.

On 18 December, Vodafone announces that Arun Sarin has been selected to succeed Sir Christopher Gent as chief executive of Vodafone Group Plc immediately following the Annual General Meeting on 30 July 2003.

2003: A group-wide Partner Network Agreement is signed with Mobilkom Austria Group to introduce Vodafone’s global services into Austria, Croatia and Slovenia.

At the 2003 GSM Association Awards Ceremony in Cannes, France, Vodafone is awarded the mobile industry’s most prestigious awards in two categories, Best Consumer Wireless Application or Service and Best Television or Broadcast Commercial for its global consumer service, Vodafone live! In addition, Vodafone’s premium handset for Vodafone live!, the Sharp GX10, wins the Best Wireless Handset Award for the Sharp Corporation. Vodafone live! attracts 1 million customers in its first six months.

SAP AG, HP and Vodafone announce a letter of intent to work together to bring to market a suite of mobile capabilities designed to increase the workforce productivity of large enterprises initially in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Vodafone increases shareholding in Telecel to 70.3%

In April, Vodafone announces it is to increase its shareholding in Vodafone Libertel to 98.2%

A Partner Network Agreement is signed with Islandssimi hf (formerly the merged companies Islandssimi and Tal) to introduce Vodafone’s global mobile services into Iceland.

In June, Vodafone announces the sale of stakes in Mexican and Indian operators.

In July, Vodafone extends its mobile community to Lithuania through a Partner Network Agreement with Bite GSM.

Vodafone acquires the remaining 20% of Vodafone Malta Limited.