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Vodafone launches VOXI sub-brand to get ‘down with the kids’

Voxi UK

Vodafone has launched a new SIM-only deal for people aged 25 and under. Welcome to the party VOXI, innit!

The service itself follows the unveiling of Three’s new Smarty proposition, which targets a similar audience of youngsters. Like Smarty, it’s a month-by-month contract, which offers various data packages, with several apps not being included in the monthly data allowance. The idea here seems to be flexibility, an important factor in the lives of younger generations. Many want the idea of freedom, but the dreaded thought of looking for a new deal will mean they probably won’t.

“Why should young people make do with the same mobile plans as everyone else, when they use their phones differently and often can’t access the best deals?” said Dan Lambrou, who will be in charge of the new venture.

“We’ve worked with hundreds of people aged 25 and under, and have really listened to them. They are a generation that’s tired of being stereotyped and talked at. We created VOXI, a transparent new mobile service that gives our audience a platform to connect to the things that matter to them, whatever they’re into.”

In terms of the services available for ‘free’, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter and Viber all make the grade. What is worth noting is that once your data allocation has been used up, ‘free’ access to the above apps will be paused until this is rectified.

The team has also snuck in a condition for data throttling, though no specific were given in the statement. We’ve been told it will be measured on a case-by-case basis, but Vodafone has essentially given itself permission to throttle performance if ‘usage adversely impacts the service for other customers’. It’s a risky move, as while such grey areas and lack of concrete definitions leave wiggle room for Vodafone, but it also leaves the telco open to criticism from both customers and competitors.

The party line is that they don’t expect to use it. The right to throttle will be reserved for those who essentially slow down the network because of their excessive usage. According to Vodafone, this will be because of commercial or fraudulent use of the contracts, though this is still a considerable amount of wiggle room for the team.

If this is starting to sound a bit like zero rating, then don’t worry, because it essentially is. The idea of promoting certain services over others has proved to be a bitter battle ground in the states, but we’ve largely avoided it here in the UK. That said, the zero rating trend kicked off a lot earlier on the other side of the pond; might we be in for a net neutrality brawl over the next couple of months?

Although Vodafone has stated it is open to approaches for new apps to be included in the zero rating offering, we wonder how many will actually be considered. It would not be difficult to imagine there being some sort of contra-relationship in the background to facilitate the zero-rating partnerships, but whether a new player would have any leverage to convince Vodafone its app should also be included in the deal is another matter.

This is the basic foundation of the net neutrality argument. Net neutrality supporters will state a company cannot ‘pay’ for better internet or a better experience for customers, which is essentially what zero rating deals offer. It gives them an advantage over potential competitors or challenges as data-conscious consumers will always favour the free option over the premium one.

To be honest, you can’t blame Vodafone here. It’s trying to keep in-line with the rest of the industry and hasn’t been held accountable by regulators. Three has launched Go Binge, Virgin Media offers zero rating for Twitter, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, and EE has an offer which allows for free streaming of Apple Music. These companies will push the boundaries until being told to stop. Ofcom should have a look here before frustration from the darker corners of the ecosystem becomes more vocal.

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