Research and development (“R&D”)
The Group R&D function comprises an international team for applied research in mobile and internet communications and their related applications. Group R&D teams are located in Newbury, Maastricht, Munich, California and Madrid, and there is an affiliated team in Paris belonging to Vodafone’s associated undertaking in France, SFR. A small team was set up at the end of 2007 in the Vodafone Beijing office to work in close collaboration with China Mobile and a number of Chinese vendors.
Function of Group R&D
Group R&D works beyond the traditional established markets of Vodafone in search of technology based business opportunities by:
- delivering a systematic programme of demand inspired research and development in wireless and internet communications that is positioned between basic research and commercial product development;
- leading Vodafone’s work with technical standards bodies and its intellectual property activities; and
- providing a route for start-up companies to engage with Vodafone. Group R&D is also in the process of establishing a laboratory in Newbury to evaluate start-up technologies.
Typically, Group R&D starts working on developments that are expected to be introduced into the business in three to five years, and leads them until a year or so before full commercialisation. Currently the horizon covers some significant business developments that can already be anticipated. For example, Group R&D leads the introduction of wireless technology beyond 3G and is researching the next phase of the emergence of the internet as a personal communications platform – including radio technologies for accessing the internet in emerging markets.
Governance is provided by the Group R&D Board, which is chaired by the Group R&D Director and consists of the chief technology officers from six of the operating subsidiaries in Europe, the heads of Business Strategy and Global Terminals and a representative from EMAPA.
Group R&D work programme
The emphasis of the Group R&D work programme is on providing technology analysis and a vision that contributes directly to business decisions, enabling new applications of mobile communications, technology for new services and research for improving operational efficiency and quality of the Group’s networks. This is done by:
- pioneering the adoption of new technologies, business opportunities and innovations through technology analysis, trials, invention and prototypes;
- making the Group aware of market opportunities or threats posed by new technologies and business models and helping the Company to exploit or resist them;
- providing technology leadership by working with the industry to define and standardise the technology Vodafone uses; and
- securing intellectual property and technology ownership for the Group.
The work of Group R&D is delivered through a portfolio of programmes and cross industry activities with a substantial number of trials, demonstrations and prototypes. All work is set in a business and social context, and must lead to intellectual property rights or to Vodafone having significant influence on the technology it will deploy in the future. Group R&D also provides leadership for funding research into health and safety aspects of mobile communications and technical leadership for the Group’s spectrum strategy.
The main themes currently being researched are as follows:
- the next generation of mobile technologies;
- consumable software for mobile phones;
- electronic newsmedia; and
- new GSM based services.
There have been several significant advances during the 2008 financial year including:
- next generation technology field trials have been announced with Verizon Wireless and China Mobile and are expected to begin in summer 2008;
- a system has been designed and standardised to enable the SIM in GSM phones to control nearfield communications for transport ticketing and other applications, with commercial trials planned for late 2008;
- demonstration of mobile software, social networks and the open source innovation platform called Vodafone Betavine at the Mobile World Congress and at Cebit; and
- research into the application of mobile communications to health and well being and to energy use.
The R&D programme provides the Group with long term technical policy, strategy and leadership, as well as providing technical underpinning for the Group’s public policies and government relations. It is shared with all Group functions and Vodafone operating companies. Commercialisation of Group R&D results is through submissions to international standards bodies, intellectual property filings and directly with Vodafone operating companies.
Much of the work of Group R&D is done in collaboration with others, both within the Group and externally, with the Group’s traditional suppliers and increasingly with other companies in the communications, media and internet industries. During the 2008 financial year the following has been achieved:
- a research collaboration was started with IBM which has led to the development of a mobile private social network called BuddyCom;
- a research agreement was also established with Huawei;
- a continuing programme of work with academic institutions, which includes student placements in Vodafone laboratories during summer vacations;
- the continued development of Vodafone Betavine, a web based research and innovation platform;
- the hosting of an academic conference where academic partners were brought together to launch a new programme – 3D internet; and
- academic collaborations in India have started.