Vodafone goes after small business unified comms

Customer premesis equipment still required

Mobile carrier Vodafone has launched an aggressive push into the unified communications space with the launch of Vodafone Business One, a partnership with Cisco and BlackBerry to offer unified communications to small and medium businesses.

Vodafone Business One (VBO) is being touted as a "unified communications in a box" service where one monthly fee includes hardware, support, data and voice services, with Vodafone being the point of contact for everything.

The pricing structure will be announced closer to launch later this year, but according to Vodafone will be consistent with the company's existing business cap plans, which are billed monthly.

VBO offers five to 100-person businesses the three core services of Office Number Anywhere, an integrated mobile and landline voice service where one number can be directed to multiple phones, One Voicemail for the same voicemail regardless of access device, and Office Zone Calling for mobile VoIP with Wi-Fi-enabled BlackBerry devices at fixed-line rates.

The move marks Vodafone's first venture beyond mobile-only services and is the first agreement of its type between the three companies anywhere in the world.

The VBO infrastructure includes an on-premise Cisco ISR (about the size of a PC tower), Cisco IP phones, and BlackBerry mobile phones; however, Vodafone says any mobile phone will work with the service, you just won't get the BlackBerry messaging.

Mobiles with the BlackBerry Connect software won't be able to take advantage of the BlackBerry features on the service either.

Vodafone Australia CEO Russell Hewitt said customers want to capitalize on the latest IP technologies without sacrificing quality, security and reliability.

"SME business owners are busy growing their business and don't have time to deal with multiple systems, technologies and suppliers, so we're doing all of the hard work for them," Hewitt said.

The VBO ADSL and SDSL services are being delivered via a partnership with carrier AAPT.

Vodafone, Cisco and RIM have been collaborating for more than 12 months to develop such a solution, and since early 2008, VBO has been deployed at a number of Sydney-based businesses, including sales and marketing company The Bailey Group.

CEO Stewart Bailey said when the company moved offices it wanted to make sure it was at the forefront in regard to office technology and in the service it provides to customers.

"The problem with our old technology was that nothing really spoke to each other and inefficiencies, such as having to go back to the office to check your e-mail, were entrenched with the systems we'd employed," Bailey said. "Each service, whether it be our mobile phones, office phones or broadband service, worked and was billed completely independently, and all from different suppliers."

Bailey said VBO has enabled the management and sales teams to become completely mobile.

"We are now able to action any request from our clients whenever it arrives, without having the burden of being tied to our desks to do so. The fact that clients and partners now only need to dial one office number to reach us anywhere, and leave one voicemail message which we can access from our desk or while out and about, has boosted our efficiency and helped us to lift our game to a whole new level - particularly in terms of responsiveness and turn-around times."

The Bailey Group IT manager Adrian Buttigieg said the implementation was quick and efficient, with a minimum of downtime.

"Vodafone engineers came in and within 24 hours had installed all of the necessary hardware and software to have the infrastructure up and running," Buttigieg said. "In terms of downtime, the company was only out of action for about one hour, in the middle of the night. So, from the users' perspective, this was a really seamless cross-over."

"From an IT manager's perspective [VBO] is fantastic - there's only one invoice to sign at the end of each month and one person to deal with if we need any support," he said.

Vodafone plans to announce channel partners and the distribution of the VBO service later this year.

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Rodney Gedda

Techworld Australia

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