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Thursday, 28 August 2008 12:19

Aastra aims to shake up Aussie enterprise telephony market

Australia's already highly competitive market for enterprise telephony systems looks set to become even more so as Canadian company Aastra, which has bought Ericsson's enterprise telephony business, moves to ramp up its operations in Australia and revitalise relationships with former Ericsson channel partners.

The Aastra name that is not well known in Australia. Nor, until recently, did the company have much of a presence in terms of either people or product. That all changed in May when it became the owner, for $A111m, of Ericsson's enterprise telephony business globally. It is now in the process of refashioning that business: a process which will mean a big change in the way it is run.

Co-CEO Tony Shen, on a visit to Australia, told iTWire that the Ericsson way had been relatively hands off, devolving a great deal of responsibility for product promotion and sales to individual channel partners and managing these remotely from the head office in Sweden. The Aastra way is to support them with an in-country team that will have direct touch with end customers (but not direct sales).

To this end, Aastra acquired the half dozen Ericsson staff in Australia involved in the enterprise comms business and pans to double this number. "Ericsson have done a very good job here and build up a large installed base.  We believe we can revitalise that and grow the business with the Aastra product portfolio and the former Ericsson portfolio," Shen said.

"We are decentralising and putting back the ownership of the business to the local entity," He added "We are just starting out we have most of the team we are up to 10 people but we wil be looking for more. We have an office." This team includes Nick Dyer, Aastra’s regional director and Kylie Savage, general manager Australia. In terms of product, Shen said that all the existing Ericsson product would be renamed Aastra but model identifiers would be retained, so for example the Ericsson MD110 is now the Aastra MD110.

Prior to acquiring the Ericsson business, Aastra's main business in Australia was to supply the P-phone to Telstra, a digital IP centrex phon that works with a Nortel switch, used by Telstra to support its IP centrex service.

Interviewed by Ovum earlier this year, Shen said Aastra aimed to be "a top five global IP telephony vendor". He was unable to provide iTWire with any estimate of  Ericsson's share of the Australian IP telephony market. However, this is likely to be substantial given that the main channel partner is Telstra Business Systems.

This is the result of Ericsson's earlier moves to distance itself from its enterprise telephony business. In March 2001 Ericsson sold its enterprise direct sales and service operations in 19 countries, including Australia, to Apax Partners Funds for $US480 million and the business was renamed Damovo. Australia was "one of the five key markets for the group and one of the six key 'Centres For Excellence'.

Shortly afterwards, Damovo acquired Telstra's PABX maintenance business. In Australia the business grew,  taking on enterprise telephony products from other major vendors before being sold to Telstra in September 2008. (Telstra snatched it form Optus which was baulking at the price).

Aastra has grown its telephony business over the past decade through a series of acquisitions: from Nortel; of Swiss company Ascom; and several other businesses. Today, according to Shen the former Ericsson business is 25-30 percent of Aastra. "Ericsson brings us a great footprint globally, and some unique product capability in particular the mobility aspect," Shen said. "We used to be in 16 countries, now we are in about 35."

 Ovum commented that "The new FMC and Mobile Extension solutions added to [Aastra's] existing SIP-based DECT products will provide a comprehensive portfolio for enterprises with mobile users in and out of the campus. However, some product rationalisation will be required to address overlaps between the existing and acquired product portfolios."

Aastra also has a relationship with hosted IP telephony application specialist BroadSoft and is an OEMer of Microsoft's ResponsePoint IP PBX . However Shen said there were no plans to launch it in Australia. One of its key features is its voice activated user interface and this would need localising by Microsoft to make it suitable for the Australian market.

According to Ovum the price paid by Aastra for the Ericsson business, $US104.6 million, was "reasonable price for the product line-up and strong international play acquired." Ovum said: "This has already proven to be money well spent, as the consolidated company has experienced a significant net increase in sales in all regions since the acquisition on 30 April 2008. It has not been without some pain though. Excluding the impact of the new business, sales would have declined by approximately 4.0 percent as sales of existing products were lower in each of [Aastra's] largest markets in Europe.

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