STORMING AHEAD WITH VODAFONE

STORMING AHEAD WITH VODAFONE

Peter Kelly

Vodafone has never been an operator to shy away from the limelight, and it is set on taking even more market share from competing networks over the next few months with its exclusive Storm handset. For this business, the network and the channel are key to staying at the top of its game. Here, Peter Kelly, director of enterprise at Vodafone UK, explains why he is expecting 2009 to be the perfect storm.

In the last few quarters Vodafone has been very much on the front foot from a product and service perspective, says Kelly. The most recent headline grabber for the operator has of course been the announcement of the Storm smartphone, developed with Research in Motion and now selling exclusively through Vodafone in the UK and other international markets.

Kelly comments: “It’s an amazing product. It has a unique clickable touch screen and brings together messaging, browsing, music, video, sat nav and other multimedia features that will be of as much interest to business users as high end consumers. It’s a real crossover product and a huge opportunity for our dealer partners to exploit over the coming months.”

Broadband on the move

Mobile broadband also continues to be big news for Vodafone, Kelly states. “We have invested millions of pounds in rolling out our high speed mobile broadband network across the UK and in the last few months have announced big speed improvements in Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Reading. We will never rest on our laurels as far as the network is concerned,” he continues. “Every time we improve the network, we are creating more opportunity for independent dealers in those areas to sell mobile broadband access and other value added services.”

In terms of access solutions for mobile broadband, USB dongles have really taken off in 2008 for Vodafone. The market for built in mobile broadband is also continuing to grow. Kelly states: “We are working closely with partners such as Lenovo and Ericsson to improve and reduce the cost of built-in mobile broadband and bring a number of exclusive notebooks to the market. We have already seen dealers, as well as ourselves, innovating and experimenting with

eye catching bundles to bring all these mobile computing products to market and achieve a mass market profile. This is a trend that we fully expect to continue through 2009.”

A major trend Vodafone is predicting for this year and next is an explosion in the take up and usage of mobile email services. At the last estimate, mobile email was available on 99% of the handsets in the Vodafone range. “It will take quite a lot of education, but the opportunity is there to sell mobile email at all levels of the market, not just to executives,” expounds Kelly. “It is something we are working on with our own retail channel as well as with independent dealers, but there is no real reason why any customer should walk away from a store or a dealership without mobile email enabled on their handset.”

 

Investing in the network

The network is key, says Kelly. He claims that first and foremost, Vodafone has confidence that its network outperforms those of its competitors, especially when it comes to the data that is now so important to customers. Earlier this year Vodafone commissioned an independent study from LCC International, an independent wireless engineering company. LCC did 28,000 network tests in its own chosen locations and to its own timetable, and did not reveal any information to Vodafone until the tests were over.

The results found the Vodafone UK network to be the fastest and most reliable for file download and web page loading; up to 10 seconds faster than its closest competitor when downloading a 2MB page and up to four times faster to open a web page. “This is the kind of performance that our customers have come to expect from our network and one of the major reasons that we have the largest share of the business market,” states Kelly.

“But of course we cannot rely on our network alone,” he adds. “We continue to pride ourselves on our customer service and also our relentless focus on simplifying our products, as has happened for example with the rapid evolution from 3G data cards to the sleek and simple to use USB dongles that you see today in the mobile broadband market.”

 

Love your dealer

Its channels to market are the backbone of Vodafone’s success, Kelly says. For a number of years Vodafone has deployed a successful blend of direct and indirect sales to target accounts of all sizes. This will continue to be the case in the future, Kelly says. In particular, the indirect channel remains very important to Vodafone in the SME sector, Kelly explains.

“The ability of those kinds of partnerships to create long term loyalty with customers at a local level is something we don’t underestimate,” he says.

Vodaphone

“In the slightly longer term, we are looking for more partners with skills across fixed line as well as mobile as we continue to evolve into a total communications provider that is fully enabled to handle all our enterprise customers’ communications needs, regardless of network, from deployment of business applications to the management of security and remote working policies.”

When and if the credit crunch affects its dealers, Vodafone will continue to support them through added sales strategies based on creating value for customers. Kelly comments: “We believe there will be a real opportunity for our partners to capitalise on the opportunity to deliver business value through tough times. Our ethos has always been to help our business customers to reduce their costs and infrastructure while at the same time improving productivity and efficiencies. Our aim for the next year, as it has always been, will be to help our channel partners to get this message across to customers that mobility solutions can be used to their benefit in these undoubtedly difficult times.”

 

Storming ahead

Moving forward, the operator is definitely not taking it easy. Vodafone is currently in the middle of a long term programme to develop its enterprise offering in three core areas: applications; services; and access.

The growth of the demand for business applications deployed to handsets for things such as field force automation has been particularly strong over the past year and has borne out the wisdom of Vodafone’s decision to buy Aspective, an applications specialist, a couple of years ago, says Kelly.

“We are also working hard on developing our service offering and now have the Vodafone Professional Services unit, which is able to deliver consultancy and support to customers from pre-sales, right through to implementation and ongoing management,” Kelly explains. “The delivery of network access technologies and solutions will of course always be core to what Vodafone does. Expect to see some more really exciting developments in this space in the next quarter,” he adds.

From an enterprise perspective, Vodafone is looking at the next six months as a time when it will capitalise on the advances it is making in the development of innovative new products and services, particularly with notebooks, the Storm smartphone and mobile broadband.

However it should be remembered that products are now crossing over between enterprise and consumer more than ever before, Kelly warns. “We expect our colleagues in the consumer business to have great success with the Storm smartphone this Christmas.”

 

Focus on channels

The challenge for next year and probably a good few years after that is the issue of churn, states Kelly. “Obviously this is not just a challenge for Vodafone, but for the industry as a whole, whether selling direct or indirect,” he points out.

“A change is not going to happen overnight, but we need to get to a mindset where the focus is on longevity of customer relationships delivering business value and not short term connection figures,” he explains. “We are starting to see a change already as we move to a total communication provision and professional services model. One of my objectives is to sit down with our channel partners and ensure that we are all collectively focused on changing the way that the industry and our customers think in this regard.

“Our focus for the next six months, bottom line, is to concentrate on customer retention both through our direct and indirect channels and to create more business opportunity on top of that with the rapidly expanding portfolio of products and services that we are currently bringing to market,” Kelly continues. “We have fantastic, and in many cases exclusive, partnerships with the likes of Research in Motion that are really bearing fruit in terms of innovative product development. This is great news for our customers, and will be equally good news for our channel partners.”