IN THE HOT SEAT: Omar's got connections

IN THE HOT SEAT: Omar's got connections

Having spent several years in Optus' wholesale business and Telstra's retail BigPond division, Unwired's Omar Khalifa has experienced selling telecommunications on both sides of the fence. Combining this knowledge with product development skills honed at HP and Apple, Khalifa is now charged with bringing the ISP's wireless broadband network to market.

Tell us about your position at Unwired.

Omar Khalifa (OK): My job entails developing Unwired's national product line. Part of that is managing the wholesale channel, which is now evolving to include VARs and IT resellers. Another one of my peers is responsible for large retailers. We're looking to hire somebody who will become the manager of the relationship within the VAR and wholesale area.

What issues have you faced since taking up the job?

OK: A lot of my time has been spent thinking about what sort of products we would develop. To do this, we've taken a very systematic approach to what we need to be successful in the marketplace on the retail side, and then how those products will play from a wholesale/channel perspective.

According to Unwired CEO, David Spence, the company is rolling out a multi-faceted product sales model. Does this mean you'll have a direct retail product for end users, as well as wholesale partners?

OK: That's right - as well as VARs and others in-between. That is something a lot of people have questioned, saying 'why not do one or the other?' Having worked at Optus and Telstra, I can understand the mechanics of both. I understand why one plays against the other and the tension that goes on in the marketplace. But with our company, it's difficult to ignore the opportunity that both these market approaches have. In retail, you typically get a better margin out of that business in the long-term. You're also able to build up a brand that you can't through a wholesale channel. But with retail, you don't get the speed to market by working with people who already have distribution channels and customer databases available to move product quickly and fill niches. What we are trying to do is balance both to get a good product through channel partners as well as a retail presence.

What channel avenues are you liaising with at the moment?

OK: It's premature to say we are in any one channel yet. We want to get into those resellers who offer a presence in the electronics side and where people would normally buy a computer. We are also talking to the retail shops. But we are equally interested in the wholesale side and are talking to ISPs. We are very happy with our existing partners in this space - People Telecom and our new mid-size partner Veritel. If you move up the chain, we've got the VARS acting more in a wholesaler role. These guys are the ones we are keen on for helping us to develop into a lot of markets that are becoming quite fragmented, and are hard to reach with one broad offering.

A lot of wireless broadband providers have launched services in the past couple of years. Industry representatives are consequently predicting these organisations will consolidate and share infrastructure. What is your opinion on this?

OK: It is confusing because there is wireless and then there is wireless. There is the home or office Wi-Fi setup, or the hotspot scenario. There's also 3G services. We're hitting a much broader constituency of people who just want a broadband connection in their home or office. They don't necessarily need to be connected while travelling in a taxi. The market we are targeting is still price sensitive, but they want absolute flexibility. One customer base for us is those who are unable to get broadband today because they can't get onto a network where they are.

These are the broadband deprived people who have been waiting for a new offering.

Then there are those who do have ADSL or cable alternatives. We think that our pricing is close enough for people to recognise the value in our connection instead - plus we add portability into the equation. We are also looking at adding voice services over that same line, so that they can become much more independent about their telecommunications options than they have today with the fixed line carriers.

Would you potentially have those competing providers however, like Telstra and Optus, as partners?

OK: Our prime motivation is to provide an alternative network. We don't want people to think about us as being someone just waiting around for a Telstra or an Optus to sign up. We have the spectrum nationally already, so we have the ability to continue from Sydney outwards. Our bigger play is to offer alternative carriage services to our customers.

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