TECHNOLOGY SPECTATOR: Telco battlefields

Vodafone Hutchinson Australia isn't ready to say no to the spectrum auction just yet and the operator's 4G strategy is still alive while Optus and Telstra battle over dinner.

Technology Spectator

The local telco sector continues to deliver of plenty of news with Vodafone Hutchinson Australia still trying to turn around its waning fortunes while Telstra and Optus continue to duke it out for the crown of Australia’s top telco.

Vodafone’s spectrum strategy

We start with VHA, which is still paying the price for dropping the ball on its network in late 2010 and continuing to see customers leave. VHA lost another 178,000 customers in the first half of its 2012 financial year and the exodus will, if nothing else, illustrate the enormity of the task facing the telco’s recently anointed boss Bill Morrow.

So far Morrow, a renowned turnaround specialist, has made a good fist of things. VHA is still bleeding customers but the rate of loss is stabilising; there is a closer infrastructure deal in place with Optus; and the 3G network is about to come online.

However, when it comes to 4G the mobile operator is sending mixed signals. After touting its 4G ambitions in June, Morrow has now flagged the possibility of perhaps sitting out the upcoming "Digital Dividend” auction.

While focusing on improving its 3G credentials certainly makes sense for Vodafone the prospect of not picking up any of the spectrum on offer would seem like suicide. So what’s VHA’s game here?

It’s not a question of money because VHA’s chief financial officer Dave Boorman has made it clear to The Australian Financial Review that the operator doesn’t need any more money from its shareholders. The thinking right now is that VHA is keen to make sure that the $1 billion spent on upgrading the 3G net actually pays off, because there is still plenty of value in that market. That is a valid point because most of the data will still be carried on 3G well into the next decade. While, Telstra and Optus are vying to take a leadership position on 4G LTE, their immediate focus is on targeted LTE investment in areas of congestion.

Right now, LTE is not at the centre of data strategy, that position is still held by 3G. LTE is currently useful in dealing with capacity issues in specific areas and that situation is expected to continue for some time to come.

So, Vodafone does have some breathing room and according to Ovum analyst David Kennedy, missing out on the spectrum doesn’t necessarily kill VHA’s 4G LTE ambitions.

According to Kennedy, VHA could still roll out a LTE network provided that it can migrate out of 2G faster than its peers and free up spectrum in the lower frequency that way.

"While Telstra has significant end-to-end businesses on 2G and Optus is interested in doing something similar, there is nothing like that from VHA,” Kennedy says.

"VHA does have alternatives, but they will just have to migrate off 2G faster, but that has been done successfully in Asia.”

There is a good chance that VHA will end up buying some spectrum, it might not be a lot but the operator could pick up just enough to slowly unfurl its 4G LTE strategy.

Optus and Telstra’s restaurant battle

Meanwhile, Optus and Telstra continue their merry dance and it didn’t take long for Optus to shadow Telstra’s move in the digital content space. Optus has paid $6 million to buy Australian restaurant and review website Eatability.

Launched in 2003 by husband and wife team Celeste and Hui Ong, Eatability boasts more than 235,000 restaurant reviews and 37,000 restaurant listings. The move comes within a months of Telstra’ venture capital arm entering into a deal with three-year-old online restaurant reservations start-up Dimmi.

What’s clear is that the restructure of Optus in a bigger regional entity has started to pay off. Optus is a far more confident and ambitious beast. However, there is still very little from the telco on the enterprise space. It’s something that it may want to rectify sooner rather than later.

SAP's biggest public sector cloud deal

SAP Australia has scored its first cloud platform win in the Australian public sector with the NSW Trade & Investment selecting it as its partner to deliver software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions to the department and its agencies.

Under the terms of the $14.5 million three-year deal, SAP will deliver a range of cloud solutions, including SAP Business ByDesign, SAP Payroll, and cloud consulting services.

The project will see the transition and consolidation of the department’s legacy ERP system including 16 agencies – totalling over 8,500 employees – onto a single, consolidated SAP cloud platform.

The NSW government, which expects annual savings of more than $12.5 million from the deal, is justifiably winning kudos for its move to embrace a new model for public sector ICT procurement.

Apart from delivering the key efficiency benefits the deal could also be an important marker for the government use of the cloud services.

According to Ovum analyst Steve Hodgkinson, the project is particularly well timed as the benefits and risks of the cloud model are becoming better understood.

He adds that with the maturity of cloud services evolving rapidly and the continuing crisis of confidence in the ICT capabilities of agencies, the project could set the foundation for a move away from the more traditional in-house model of shared ICT services arrangements

"The hope is that the multi-tenant architecture and configurability of the SaaS solution will enable the many agencies within the Trade & Investment portfolio to use it as an efficient and flexible shared service,” Hodgkinson says.

"If this hope is realised it will be an important proof point for the efficacy of the cloud services model as an alternative to more traditional in-house shared ICT services arrangements.”

Of course the final proof will be in the pudding and as Hodgkinson points out the project will be closely watched by both the proponents of cloud services and the sceptics

"Cloud sceptics will be eager to see it fail. Cloud proponents, on the other hand, will be keen to see both SAP and the agency succeed in taking a major step into the future of public sector ICT-enabled innovation.”

Meanwhile, a new oveseas cloud player has set up shop in Australia with US-based CloudFlare reportedly opening a new data centre in Sydney.

Kogan scores a deal with the Pies

Kogan.com founder Ruslan Kogan isn’t shy of publicity or breaking new ground and the enfant terrible of the online retail space has now scored a deal with none other than Eddie McGuire.

Kogan and the Collingwood Football Club have forged a partnership to launch a limited edition 42” Collingwood LED TV.

The TV, available for sale from kogan.com for $449, is a 42” full HD LED TV branded with Collingwood Football Club logos on the front, on the start-up screen, and on the remote control.

As far as McGuire is concerned the deal is a match made in heaven.

"Kogan is an Aussie home grown success story which is why they’re the perfect partner for Collingwood, an Australian sporting icon,” McGuire said in a statement.

"The moment Ruslan Kogan shared this idea with me, I knew we were onto a winner,” he added.

Meanwhile, Kogan is already thinking of kicking bigger goals, telling the Herald Sun that he is planning to take the club-branded TV idea to the English Premier League.

In other retail news, the Winning Group is set to implement hybris’ multichannel e-commerce solution across its Winning Appliances, Winning Bathrooms, Appliances Online and BigBrownBox brands. The Winning Group will start to roll-out the new software by the end of the year.

Rebel Group has switched on a mobile occupational health and safety audit software solution across the retailer’s nationwide network of 140 sports stores.

The solution, built on the Blink Mobility Platform, is designed to cut the time required to conduct individual audits and reduce paper-based OHS audits within the group. The OHS platform was developed by IT services company and BlinkMobile partner, Multibase.

Wrapping up

Kiwi cloud-based accounting software firm, Xero, is considering a dual-listing on the ASX after clicking past the 100,000 paying customers mark.

The Wellington-based company told shareholders at its annual meeting it is considering a dual-listing on the ASX "to make it easier for Australian partners and customers to purchase shares.”

Xero is an online accounting system designed specifically for small business. The business was started in 2006, and listed on the NZX on June 5, 2007.

Sydney-based logistics specialist CargoWise has bought local transport and logistics software pioneer TransLogix for an undisclosed sum.

According to CargoWise, the combined business will have the capacity to dramatically increase the level of research and development investment, accelerate the creation of new software and expand into new geographies. TransLogix’s founder and CEO Anselm Waterfield will remain with the merged entity and assist in the integration and transition of the business.

Carsales.com has deployed a high-performance campus network based on Juniper’s Simply Connectedproduct portfolio at its new corporate headquarters. The new network, which runs on the Junos operating system, features a simplified architecture and provides ubiquitous wireless and wire-line access, enabling the company to support video and new collaborative services.

Business security solutions provider WatchGuard Technologies has appointed Patrick Devlin as ANZ country manager. Devlin will be responsible for managing the company’s market presence in Australia and New Zealand, overseeing new revenue opportunities, and managing local customer relationships. Devlin replaces Scott Robertson who earlier this year was promoted to Vice President, Asia Pacific Sales, based in Singapore.