Vodafone is the largest mobile phone network operator in the world. Based in Newbury, in the UK, it has interests in networks in 28 countries worldwide. Subject to the share price fluctuations that affect the telecommunications industry, as of December 2001, Vodafone Airtouch Plc. is the largest company in Europe, as measured by market capitalisation (the value of the company: share price × number of shares). The size of the company means that movements in its share price have a marked effect on the FTSE 100 index as a whole. This means that unit trusts and funds that track the index fluctuate significantly in reaction to changes in the telecommunications sector.
It was founded in 1982 as a subsidiary of Racal, to bid for the UK's first mobile phone licence, which it successfully won. The name is based on the fact they were to provide voice and data services. The network was launched on January 1, 1985 when the UK's first mobile phone call was carried by the network. Vodafone, as the first player in a market in the UK that would eventually grow to four networks, Vodafone built a reputation is a stuffy incumbent, resistant to change, and more interested in protecting its market share than innovating. This image has gradually changed, as, faced with stiff competition in the domestic market from networks such as Orange that managed to build a more modern and customer-friendly image, they started to expand aggressively worldwide. This reached a peak in 1999 and 2000 under the leadership of CEO Chris Gent, first with the hostile takeover of German conglomerate Mannesmann, the first in German corporate history, and then with the merger with Airtouch in the US, which established them as the world's largest operator.
The global brand that they are building is reflected in their policy of gradually renaming networks that they take a controlling share of. It is appropriate that a global British company such as this is now the sponsor of Britain's most succesful sporting export: the Manchester United soccer team. The four year deal was worth £30 million to the club. They will also be a major sponsor of the Ferrari Formula One team for the 2002 season, as well as sponsoring the Wallabies: the Australian national rugby team, and the English national cricket team.