TECHNOLOGY SPECTATOR: Vodafone on the block?

Despite an unhappy couple of years for the country's third-largest mobile carrier, talk of suitors eyeing Vodafone Australia looks like a case of wishful thinking.

Technology Spectator

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Vodafone Australia on the block?

Vodafone Hutchison Australia hasn’t had a happy couple of years as the country’s third largest mobile carrier. Given the sheer scale of the work needed to rehabilitate its battered reputation and stem the exodus of disgruntled customers, it was only a matter of time before the commitment of its joint owners – UK’s Vodafone Group and Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa – was going to be questioned.

However, talk of VHA being put on the block seems more likely to be a case of wishful thinking rather than an indication of its owners losing their patience. Vodafone Group and Hutchison Whampoa have both pledged their continuing support for VHA and for the time staff have been told that there is no sales process underway. That position may well change in the future but for now it’s steady as she goes with the billion dollar network upgrade and clawing back the ground lost to Telstra and Optus.

The catalyst for the sale talk is almost certainly the impending spectrum auction in Australia, which is crucial to the future of the local mobile sector. Access to the new spectrum will not be cheap, about $700 million over the next two years and almost $2 billion by 2017, and that has in turn fuelled the speculation that Vodafone and Hutchison Whampoa may not be willing to pour in that sort of cash.

According to The Australian, VHA lost $336 million and shed 554,000 customers and that’s enough to test the will of even the staunchest supporter. But is it enough to make Vodafone and Hutchinson Whampoa throw in the towel?

There is a significant and much-needed management restructure underway at VHA and that along with the investment in an improved network should ensure that there is no change to the status quo for the time being. If anything things are actually on the mend since the dark days of last year.

According to Ovum analyst David Kennedy, VHA’s "gross adds” are actually quite healthy which means that they are still attracting people to their network.

"What they need to do is deal with the people who are churning off and a lot of these are people who would have been on a two-year contract and had a bad experience in 2010-2011,” Kennedy says.

He adds that there is a limited pool of these people, so, the overall trend for VHA is actually positive.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the likely suitors named in the report don’t exactly stand out as one’s that have shown any interest in wading into the Australian market. Most can afford the purchase but it’s doubtful if any of them would pay a premium to take on the likes of Telstra and Optus in a low growth market.

As for likely Australian contenders, well there aren’t any that really stand out. While iiNet is the most acquisitive player in the telco space at the moment, VHA is too big for it to swallow. Meanwhile, any move by Optus or Telstra to strike a deal will raise competition issues. So, for now this rumour is more smoke and very little fire but VHA still has plenty to work to do, especially with the restructure, which its co-owners hope will finally exorcise the ghosts of the past.

Optus stays busy; Randstad dials Telstra

Staying in the telco space, Optus’ frenetic start to the year continues to roll along with the telco now successfully completing the first 4G trial in Australia using the 700 Megahertz frequency. The trial was conducted in Bendigo over the past few months and according to Optus boss Paul O’Sullivan, the telco has not only achieved peak download speeds of 70 megabits per second, but done so in the "middle of Bendigo CBD.”

The numbers are impressive and the trial coupled with the recent acquisition of Vivid Wireless is a clear sign that Optus means business when it comes to the looming spectrum auction.

Meanwhile, China’s Huawei has been confirmed as the vendor partner for Optus’ rollout of Long-Term Evolution mobile technology across Newcastle and the surrounding region.

Huawei and Optus have been working together since 2007, when Huawei was named as vendor partner for Optus’ regional 3G network expansion, so it’s not surprising to see the two joining forces to rollout the 4G network. Services in the area are expected to cone online in April this year.

Elsewhere, recruitment and HR services provider Randstad has signed a three-year deal with Telstra, to provide telecommunication services and transition the company into a cloud-computing model.

Under the agreement, Telstra will provide Next G mobile phones and 4G enterprise mobile broadband services; manage and connect Randstad’s 50 offices to the Telstra Next IP Network.

Telstra IP Telephony will also be rolled out across Randstad’s workforce.

NAB building its own Kaching

Moving to the banking sector, with the mobile payments trend starting to pick up steam. National Australia Bank is reportedly keen to keep pace with rival Commonwealth Bank. With CBA’s Kaching now up a running NAB’s group executive Gavin Slater has told The Age that the bank is now working on a version of its own.

Slater who is leading the overhaul of NAB’s IT systems told the papers that the latest app could include funds, coupons, and point-of-sale features.

Meanwhile, the lender’s existing offering has also undergone a revamp with both the Google Android and Apple iPhone versions of the NAB app now giving customers an option to set a four digit passcode.

NAB’s executive general manager, Sam Plowman, says new features include giving customers the ability to set future-dated bill payments and funds transfers, without having to log-on via a PC.

"Mobile banking is NAB's fastest growing channel, with 300 per cent growth in the last year and one in three NAB internet banking logins now done on a mobile device,” Plowman says.

He added that the changes were made based on feedback from more than 4000 customers, collected via social media and user surveys.

NewSat finalises launch deal with Arianespace

Satellite communications company NewSat Limited has finalised an agreement with France’s Arianespace for the launch of Jabiru-1. The agreement updates the previous launch reservation agreement announced in December last year, with final launch service specifications and details.

The deal means that Jabiru-1 is now set to go into orbit in the fourth quarter of 2014. The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Jabiru-1, which is currently under construction, will be fitted with 50 Ka-band transponders configured for a variety of multi-spot, steerable and regional beams.

Pronto Software, Retail Prodigy Group

Nike Australia master franchise owner Retail Prodigy Group has deployed enterprise resource planning solutions provider Pronto Software’s latest offering, Pronto Xi Dimensions, to manage sales and staff performance and help drive its growth strategy.

The solution went live in Retail Prodigy Group’s Melbourne Central, Charlestown and Penrith stores in late 2011. It will also be deployed in the additional stores Retail Prodigy is set to open in Queensland and New South Wales in the next three months.

Retail Prodigy Group’s general manager Andrew McDonald said that the combination of ERP transactions with BI analytics functionalities is a real plus for the retail space.

"We need to be able to access and analyse good quality information for better decision making,” McDonald said in a statement.

Retail Prodigy has also chosen to deploy a SaaS model via Pronto Hosted Services, which will enable solutions to be managed, monitored and maintained offsite.

SafeNet, Cryptocard

Information security outfit SafeNet has added privately held cloud-based authentication solutions provider, Cryptocard, to its portfolio.

The acquisition allows SafeNet to provide immediate cloud-based authentication services which strengthen its entire authentication solution and cloud offerings and accelerates its growth in the fast growing Authentication-as-a-Service market.

Given SafeNet’s strong channel sales focus for authentication solutions in Australia and New Zealand, this acquisition also gives SafeNet’s ANZ channel partners a strong business opportunity in a region where Cryptocard has previously had little or no presence.

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