Vodafone admitted yesterday that 16 per cent of its 12.5 million subscribers are inactive, effectively relegating the longstanding market leader to third place in the UK mobile market behind Orange and BT Cellnet.
The admission came on the eve of Vodafone's annual meeting today, which could see chief executive Chris Gent refused a proposed record bonus by shareholders.
The telco has cut inactive subscribers to bring its reporting into line with Orange and BT Cellnet. Both have previously moved to tighten up their subscriber numbers by eliminating those who do not make or receive calls for a number of months - usually three - when they calculate their customer base.
Orange is now leading the market with 11.9 million subscribers, followed by BT Cellnet with 10.9 million and Vodafone on 10.5 million. Vodafone had led the UK mobiles sector since early 1996, but now ranks ahead of just One 2 One and virtual operators like Virgin Mobile.
However, the company claims that its customers spend more on average, giving it a 37 per cent share of total market revenues. Figures also show that just 0.4 per cent of revenues are generated by internet usage, although SMS use accounts for 8.2 per cent.
The subscriber figures will not help Gent, whose record fat cat bonus of eight million share options will be voted on today. Since the completion of its giant merger with Mannesmann, for which Gent was fêted, shares in Vodafone had fallen from over 350p to 143p before today's annual meeting.
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