Cutting Room: Badlands of mobile to promised land of UC


Micro-P has a pretty refreshing story insofar as its looks like a distributor with a real chance to transgress its old channel confines. At last.

From an editorial point of view, Mobile News has been addressing this new unified communications space all through this year, in a dedicated section that is intended to shed light on this promised dealer land, and in the process expand our own remit and (of course) win a crossover readership.

On those last two points, we can claim some limited success – the magazine has drawn some new readers in parallel markets just as many longtime mobile businesses have dropped away. It is an ongoing operation for us.

But this promised land – and we are, as Gerry O’Keefe (pictured) is, talking about the convergence of sales channels, principally, rather than the unification of technology – looks to have been elusive so far.

Who has succeeded? When we took the editorial decision to address this new market, we did so because we saw our regular subjects in the network and distributor channels moving that way.

O2 was working with Westcoast, T-Mobile with Northamber. US giant Brightstar had combined with IT monster Tech Data (Computer 2000). Avenir struck up deals with SCC and Westcoast. Airtime specialists like Fone Logistics and MoCo were branching out into fixed line, at least.

Service provider Timico had reinvented itself. Azzurri was buying up complementary business concerns at an astonishing rate. Opal Telecom and all its satellite brands were sniffing around the mobile space.

But who has succeeded, of that long list, and who is left off it anyway? None of the middle-men, the distributors, either side of the divide have shown great leaping profits from such moves.

Northamber is risk averse, a business in decline. Westcoast is an HP-specialist, even in the IT sector. Ingram Micro has not shown any kind of mobile impetus (except for some incremental BlackBerry business) – although its senior management ‘switcheroo’ in the UK could generate momentum.

And Brightstar – arguably the most likely to succeed, with the scale and the slickest systems – has struggled for total autonomy with its dependency on Computer 2000. Who goes first up at Magna Park? Part of the reason Tanny Price has been brought in is to smooth the relationship between its bullish distribution businesses.

And from the other side? Fixed line is good, but it’s another straight sale. The step-up is to IT systems management, to hosted applications, cloud computing and applications. Timico is only just beyond start-up stage, really. And Avenir has struggled with cross-selling IT and mobile, and looks to have refocused on familiar fixed line and accessories.

Micro-P, for box-shifting and logistics and service across channels, looks to be doing rather well. It has expertise, and is to buy up more – in terms of businesses and individuals.

It is smaller than its rivals in IT – £380 million turnover, compared with £927 million at Computer 2000, £772 million at Ingram Micro and £575 million at Westcoast (all last filed accounts).

All massive (treble) compared with the biggest equivalents in mobile. But its margins are good, and it is a SME specialist. And the convergence of the sales channels will take place, eventually, in the SME market first.