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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Top Phone Operators Unveil New Alliance

LONDON -- The top cellular operators in Western Europe's largest countries unveiled a new "FreeMove" alliance Monday designed to boost their market clout and take on rival Vodafone Group.

The chief executives of Germany's T-Mobile, Spain's Telef?nica M?viles, Telecom Italia Mobile and French-owned Orange, the leading operator in Britain and France, said they planned to unveil new tariffs and phones in the coming six to eight weeks.

The partnership, currently chaired by TIM chief executive Marco de Benedetti, was formed last year and plans to launch innovative products and services for traveling customers in what analysts say is a defensive move against the dominant position of Vodafone, the world's largest cellular company by revenue.

At a news conference in London, the four companies said they planned to offer customers the same services when roaming abroad as at home, adding that they hoped to boost average growth per year in voice traffic by 10 percent, and that they expected data traffic to double every year for the next three years.

FreeMove, which is nonexclusive, is focusing in part on the 4 billion euro ($4.87 billion) European market for multinational companies, although it eventually plans to expand into North and South America.

The group has struck a vendor deal with Motorola of the United States and Germany's Siemens for its first products, and said it had already purchased 6 million handsets with an average cost saving of up to 10 percent.

The four partners, who have a combined 170 million customers in 21 European countries, said around a quarter of their total devices would be purchased through the new partnership by Christmas 2005.

A rival partnership that links some of Europe's smaller operators, including British-based mmO2, Enel's Wind in Italy and Spain's Amena, has already announced its new Starmap Mobile Alliance brand.

Starmap, which also includes Austria's One, Swiss-based sunrise, Norwegian-owned Telenor Mobil and Hungary's Pannon GSM, said last month it had begun offering services such as picture messaging and flat-rate roaming tariffs for customers traveling across its nine countries.

Some analysts believe the new alliances will struggle to narrow the gap with Vodafone, partly because of a potential conflict in management focus and style. And some say they smack of the partnerships that littered the telecom industry in the 1990s, only to run aground by 2000.

But the four CEOs said they were fully committed to the new partnership, and would meet about every six weeks.