Life is beautiful @ Virgin

Life is beautiful @ Virgin

There's nothing like a shameless rip-off of the finale of Roberto Benigni's Nazi-era film, Life is Beautiful, to get the pulses racing and the cockles warmed.

Replace soldiers in army greens with bleached and bronzed page-three models and you have Virgin boss Richard Branson's version of how the movie should have ended.

In town to kick-start a savage marketing campaign in the lead-up to mobile phone "roaming" on September 25, Branson also fielded questions about Tampa, stranded refugees, and the possibility of a hostile takeover by Singapore Airlines.

Nevertheless, the plug for mobile roaming surfaced eventually.

The mobile phone operator has mysteriously grown its subscriber capacity to handle an additional 180,000 customers since the demise of One.Tel in May, at which time the company told ARN it could only cope with 20,000 new punters.

Having overtaken rival mobile service provider Orange, Branson is set to go head-to-head with Vodafone, no mean feat considering the latter's current subscriber base of 1.5 million.

In a lavish attempt to gain mind-share, Branson is offering consumers $150 discounts on domestic air flights if they convert to his mobile network. He brushed aside concerns that Virgin could fall into the One.Tel trap of overextending itself with customer acquisition, saying, "If we get the numbers en masse we should be very profitable."

The young telco also tabled $800 million in "rorts" undertaken by its competitors, including peak rates on Saturdays, charges for voicemail, and billing in 30-second blocks. While Virgin's abstinence from this type of behaviour is beneficial for consumers, one can't help but be suspicious about the company's apparent altruism.

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