Vodafone launches unified comms for SMEs

The One Net platform will target small businesses with a hosted service that brings together fixed-line and mobile communications, with the help of partner BT Wholesale

Vodafone has launched a hosted, converged fixed-line and mobile voice service tailored to small and medium-sized businesses.

Announced on Wednesday, Vodafone One Net is a hosted unified communications platform that enables small companies to provide employees with a single phone number for their landline and mobile telephones, and with a single voicemail box for calls to either. It follows on from Vodafone One, a non-hosted unified communications product for corporate customers, which was introduced in June.

The major challenge is likely to be how well the mobile carrier will manage to sell the service, commented Richard Mahoney, an analyst with Ovum. "Vodafone has traditionally been selling minutes and bytes, and this is a major shift to selling services and applications. It will be interesting to see how the salesforce copes, because the UK is a complex market."

Businesses will pay for One Net on a flat rate per user, with prices based on one of five tariffs, depending on the level of hosting and fixed/mobile service required, Vodafone said.

The service will provide small businesses with a unified communication service that could cut communications costs by up to 20 per cent and provide predictability, according to Peter Kelly, enterprise director at Vodafone UK. "Our research tells us that for SMEs, communication is a major expense because of the overlap between mobile and fixed lines, and the complexity of different pricing plans and tariffs. Then there's the maintenance and support of the infrastructure on top of that," Kelly said.

One Net is likely to be of most benefit to companies that rely heavily on mobile communications and do not gain any real strategic value from their internal communications infrastructure, said Katja Ruud, a research director with Gartner Group.

"If you're a production site, with only one manager using a mobile, then the fixed-line providers are probably a better choice for unified communications. But for people like architects, where workers are in and out of the office, sending files and messages, Vodafone should be a very good fit," she said.

Alongside the launch, Vodafone announced that it has signed a five-year deal with BT Wholesale that allows the mobile operator to offer fixed-line services in its unified communications package. Under the deal, an extension of an existing long-term partnership, BT Wholesale is supplying IP-enabled voice and broadband as a managed service.

From mid-2010, Vodafone plans to roll out a hosted suite of Microsoft applications to One Net customers, including hosted SharePoint and Office Communication Server (OCS).