VODAFONE shareholders were handed a cash windfall yesterday after the mobile phone group raised its dividend 20 per cent and set aside £2.5bn to buy back shares.

The announcement came as Vodafone unveiled half-year turnover up 13 per cent to £16.9bn with profits before one-off items ahead 26 per cent at £5.4bn.

Arun Sarin, who took over from chief executive Sir Christopher Gent in the summer, described the company's performance in the six months as "outstanding".

A half-year dividend of 0.9535p a share will be paid.

Mr Sarin said the company had seen its global customer base break through the 125 million mark following a rise of 5.7 million since March 31.

He said: "I am confident that Vodafone is strategically, operationally and financially well positioned to deliver continued success in the future."

In the UK and Ireland business, Vodafone said turnover grew ten per cent to £2.53bn, with operating profits ahead eight per cent at £685m despite "intense competition" in the six month period.

The company, which said it had a 32.5 per cent share of the UK mobile phone market, said it saw a £5 rise in the average amount spent by each customer to £297.

Shares in the company rose by five per cent, up 6p to 131p