Vodafone Australia today took its first steps outside of the mobile world, announcing a new converged communications bundle designed to provide small businesses with their total communications needs.
The Vodafone Business One service, available by the end of this year, bundles mobile and fixed telephony, DSL and mobile internet connectivity, plus some clever unified communication smarts based around Cisco's IP networking and RIM's BlackBerry platforms, all as a managed service on a monthly bill.
Launched at a Sydney event hosted in conjunction with Cisco and RIM (manufacturers of the BlackBerry), Vodafone Australia CEO Russell Hewitt said the solution was a world first for the carrier.
Next to the launch of Vodafone's 3G and HSDPA services, Hewitt said the mobile carrier's move into the wider communications sphere was "the biggest announcement" the company has ever made in Australia.
The CPE-based solution will see customers provisioned with an all-in-one Cisco Integrated Services Router (which includes an IP PBX among other things), Cisco's fixed IP desk phones and Wi-Fi units, plus a choice of three dual-mode (Wi-Fi compatible) BlackBerry MVS mobile handsets, licenses for the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, and optional Vodafone-branded mobile broadband USB modems/data cards. The bundle will also include access to the Vodafone mobile network and AAPT-provisioned ADSL2+ network.
The cost of all of this equipment will be amortised over the length of a total monthly communications contract (including all fixed and mobile, voice and data) with Vodafone. Pricing is yet to be announced, but contracts are expected to be lengthy (minimum of 24 months) to cover the cost of the hardware.
The solution will be sold solely by Vodafone and its partner channel, but provisioned by Cisco Systems' business partners.
The managed service is likely to appeal to small businesses within the five-to-50 employee range that want one supplier, one contract, one invoice and one point of accountability for all their communications needs.
The BlackBerry MVS mobile phones, for example, will be able to make calls at landline rates when the caller is within their office WLAN. They can similarly receive calls on both their fixed and mobile handsets, and share a single voicemail account.
David McNaughton, head of fixed and value added services at Vodafone Australia, said small businesses are interested in converged solutions but don't have the skill-sets to build them.
"We've done the integration and testing so that SMB's don't have to do it themselves," he said.
While Vodafone's launch partner is BlackBerry, McNaughton concedes that other dual-mode mobile handsets may be applicable to the service.
Vodafone will gradually roll out the bundle to customers between now and the end of the year, but will register expressions of interest in the service as of today.