Excalibur drawn in Vodafone’s image

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B2B dealer Excalibur was selected by Vodafone as launch partner for its OneNet unified comms service. Boss James Phipps tells Michael Garwood its broad sales portfolio and supplier relations will see it advance further

B2B dealer Excalibur Communications has retained a low profile in the market, despite its status among Vodafone’s elite. However, it has drawn some attention with the first third-party deployment of Vodafone’s hyped OneNet unified communications solution for SMEs. And it is ready to talk.

The firm, sister company to the Excalibur handset and accessories distributor business, has offices besides its Basildon headquarters in Crawley, Southampton, Swindon, Basingstoke, Bristol and Western-super-Mare. It claims to have one of the biggest Vodafone business bases in the UK, with more than 30,000 connections.

As debut partner for OneNet, a major Vodafone product that has been tightly managed and repeatedly honed, its seriousness and status within the channel is plain. It is for Vodafone what Belfast-based Barclay is for O2; a leading partner in the SME market with which it shares its closest strategic and commercial thinking.

In fact, Excalibur manages a modest O2 base of around 3,000 numbers alongside its accounts in Vodafone red. The point for it is both its supplier brands draw custom on more than price alone. They lead the business market, it suggests, for the value their solutions afford customers in productivity and suchlike.

Excalibur claims a customer ARPU of £40-£50 and a churn rate of less than five per cent as a consequence of its hard work with these brands, and with Vodafone in the main. Its turnover has doubled to £16 million in the past three years, it says, as it has brought in a broader skillset and product portfolio and embraced this concept of unified communications.

Managing director James Phipps (pictured), with the company since it formed in 1999 and boss of the Excalibur group since February, played a consultative role in the way OneNet has been shaped by Vodafone, ranging from features the service should incroporate, through to appropriate channel structure and commercial arrangement for its re-sale.

Excalibur has been in private discussion with Vodafone about OneNet for 18 months, including six months of trials in a test environment and three months in a live environment at its own offices.

Its provision to London based security company Debco Rentals marks the first commercial deployment of the OneNet service by the indirect sales channel. Excalibur reckons OneNet will save Debco 20 per cent on its communications spend.

Phipps says: “We have had a strong influence on the product. We gave input in to the commercial arrangement, the technical side, the processes, the contract term; everything from start to end. I have immense respect for Vodafone for having that conversation, in proper depth, with the channel before launching it.

“The traditional way for operators to work is to announce it in a bulletin the day before. Vodafone is targeting companies with 30-50 staff. Eighty per cent of our base has 1-80 lines. There is great crossover.

“Our base is ready to go, and we have the capability. It’s a dream scenario. Debco described the product to us before we even had it. So when Vodafone gave us the green light, it said ‘yes’ right away. That doesn’t happen very often. Every customer I have spoken with wants OneNet.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 470 (August 16, 2010).

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