Central Telecom drives Voda UC


Vodafone UK enterprise director Peter Kelly (pictured) set out Vodafone’s unified communications strategy last week, declaring newly-acquired service provider Central Telecom to be at the heart of its drive for increased SME and corporate market share.

Vodafone acquired Burton-based Central Telecom in December last year, the third independent service provider purchased by the network to support its new business sales strategy.

Kelly, who joined from Nortel in September last year, said Central Telecom, as systems integrator, will work for Vodafone’s business sales operation alongside Manchester-based B2B service provider Yes Telecom, purchased for £22 million in 2006, and enterprise application developer Aspective, snapped up in 2007.

Both Yes Telecom and Aspective were purchased by Kelly’s predecessor Kyle Whitehill, who joined Vodafone Essar in India as chief operating officer in February last year. Its business strategy, particularly in the SoHo and SME markets, has stalled in the intervening period, and Vodafone has lost considerable market share in the small business sector to O2.

However, Kelly suggested last week Vodafone was finally organising itself for a concerted attack on the broader business market, starting with a new unified communications solution, called ‘Vodafone One’, for the corporate sector.

Vodafone One provides business customers with a single phone number, either mobile or geographic, that works across fixed line, mobile and internet, and transfers between the three transmission technologies seamlessly (click here for more).

The service will be pitched initially to UK firms with more than 500 seats in both the private and public sectors. It is available on three-year flat-rate contracts, negotiable ahead of sale according to projected usage. It works with any GSM handset, and is not restricted to high-end smartphones.

Kelly said: “Central Telecom really does bring us credibility. Customers like the [unified communications] message. But they want to know whether we can deploy it, whether we have the project management, the programme management, the network skills, the certified engineers to really deliver it. And with Central Telecom, we now believe we do [have all that].”

Central Telecom’s core business is around LAN and wireless LAN. It works closely with the likes of Avaya, Nortel, Siemens, Microsoft and Cisco. It also runs a division involved in fixed line VPN and hosted applications, and another that works as a service provider to the SME and SoHo channel.

“In unified communications, I don’t think you can win unless you have really rich, deep network and systems integration skills, and we have acquired some of that. I am turning Central Telecom into the unified communication group and Aspective into the applications group,” said Kelly.

Vodafone’s unified communications proposition will be made available to SoHo and SME customers via Yes Telecom in a different format, although the direct corporate strategy will be cleared first.

Vodafone’s small business strategy has been disrupted after Tanny Price, its choice for new head of distribution, became entangled in an ugly legal spat with her former employer Avenir, which ultimately cut short her time at Vodafone and left the Yes Telecom business short of proper direction.

Price has since joined US handset distributor Brightstar as its UK general manager, and Vodafone head of indirect Dale Parkinson has been handed charge of the under-performing Yes Telecom business.

But Kelly said: “The indirect channel is very important for us today in mobile, and will be more so as we go into unified communications.”

He added: “Why unified communications? That’s the next adjacent market. There is a massive demand for unified communications when it drives short return in cost benefit, productivity and customer service. We own over 40 per cent of the [enterprise] market, so we do very well. But, depending on whose numbers you use, this new market is between five and 10 times the size of the market we are already in.

“And our customers need us to go there, because they see this convergence. Ultimately, they don’t want seven different service companies coming into their organisation – they want just one to tie it all together in a meaningful way.

“We have a very strong mobile-centric unified communications strategy. What does that mean in terms of our competitive landscape? It is just going to get crazy. It’s already pretty crazy, but we are going to start to compete, and sometimes to partner, with providers and vendors in parallel markets.”