Vodafone to attack Three with Zyb-powered Vodafone People

These two videos, leaked to us by a Vodafone insider, show a new product called Vodafone People that bears a striking resemblance to Zyb, the mobile phone utility and social networking site that Vodafone bought last year for €31.5m ($44.5m).

But we don’t think Vodafone wants us to know about it just yet. Although there’s a Twitter account with just over a hundred followers, nothing’s going on there and you won’t find much by Googling either. What’s clear, though, is that Vodafone is now aiming squarely at integrating social networks, an area which the Three network has pushed heavily to date.

Vodafone People has “active contacts”, similar to the old Jaiku format and seems to be taking on INQ Mobile (which has an exclusive contract with Three in the UK) by syncing contacts on multiple devices and details with Facebook. In other words, Vodafone appears spooked by Three’s focus on social networking.

It looks like Vodafone People will integrate Twitter, GTalk, Facebook and its own status updates too. Throw into the mix features that currently exist on the Pre, iPhone and Android handsets, like threaded conversations, and you’ve got a pretty powerful feature set that rivals Skydeck.

According to the videos, Vodafone People will be “open to everyone” across 247 networks and 400 mobile phones. The videos show cloud syncing across mobile, PC and Mac. Even Nokia can’t do that successfully yet. Always backed up and always updated? Sure, that’s nothing new on its own. But this isn’t a handset manufacturer, an operating system or an application offering this: it’s a mobile network, via technology they’ve purchased in the form of a start-up.

Voice and data services are only going to get cheaper. The last thing mobile networks want is to become “dumb pipes”. So here’s a network trying to increase the value of its proposition by offering its own services.