The domestic roaming battle may be lost and TPG Telecom is shaping up as a formidable opponent in the mobile space, but Vodafone has few a cards up its sleeves in 2018. Vodafone Hutchison Australia’s enterprise division boss, Stuart Kelly, reckons the telco is ready to make the transition from mobile to fixed broadband, via the National Broadband Network, with a real focus on enterprises.
Vodafone is broadly seen as a consumer telco but has been slowly shifting gears on better serving enterprise customers, especially small to medium businesses. It’s a lucrative sector that Vodafone has so far relied solely on the strength of its mobile network to target.
The telco picked up Qantas as a customer in 2015 with the partnership allowing customers to earn Qantas Points through their Vodafone mobile plans and eligible international customers travelling to Australia offered a prepaid SIM, and a smartphone plus SIM package.
Mr Kelly said there had been a flurry of activity since then to consolidate the enterprise division.
“We have our own direct sales force of almost 40 people, we have integrated Vodafone global enterprise and we have our Internet of Things function sitting within the enterprise unit as well,” he told The Australian.
Vodafone is also looking to add to the portfolio of business centres that it has launched over the past year.
The IoT space is likely to be fiercely contested locally, with all three major carriers getting trials off the ground. Telstra last week got the ball rolling on trialling smart city applications in Western Australia, under a partnership with Joondalup Council.
Meanwhile, Vodafone and Huawei have worked with Melbourne’s South East Water on a narrow-band IoT deployment and Optus is working with Cisco on putting together a comprehensive IoT offering.
According to Citi Research, the enthusiasm is likely to continue as IoT platforms become a larger focus for the wireless broadband industry.
“Platform-centric companies, such as Amazon and Google, are likely to have a significant influence on the pace at which some of these opportunities scale,” Citi analysts said.
“We would expect all of the national carriers and even some spectrum holders to increasingly compete for a slice of this IoT market.”
For Mr Kelly, the next big step change is Vodafone’s impending entry into fixed broadband as it gets ready to jump on to the NBN.
According to Mr Kelly, networks are only one part of a bigger picture, with customer care and collaboration just as important.
“We are partnering with people to ensure that customers get more than just the basic telephony service, so if you think about storage we are working with Dropbox, on security we work with Symantec,” he said.
Mr Kelly added that Vodafone was working on a unified communications product that was set for launch later this year.
“We are developing that as we speak, so the plan is by the end of 2017 not only will we have fixed broadband technology but also unified communications.”
It is a further sign of intent from Vodafone to become the total package in the market and Mr Kelly said that a move into the NBN was a natural evolution for the telco and allowed it to cater to a different set of customer needs.
The quality of the broadband services delivered, especially on the NBN, is a major source of headache for customers and it is an area that Vodafone will look to use to its advantage.
“We know that many customers are frustrated by their experiences, they are confused with the options out there and when things go wrong many are simply left in the lurch,” Mr Kelly said.
Vodafone will be hoping that its converged offering will offer a level of continuity and reliability that will be particularly attractive to SMBs.
The addition of the fixed product does change the dynamic on overall margins, costs and service delivery and Mr Kelly said that the first step would be to meet the needs of Vodafone’s existing customer base.
“Our market entry will see us making sure we are serving the needs of our existing customers and then looking beyond that over time,” he said.
He added that NBN’s wholesale access prices were expensive at a global level but, unlike its rivals, Vodafone does not have any legacy margins to protect.
“There probably does need to be an examination of the NBN wholesale price to best encourage customer take-up,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s anybody else of the same size and scale as us entering the fixed market without margin pressure, so we have an opportunity to do something special.”
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