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IN THE HOT SEAT: Looking upstream

IN THE HOT SEAT: Looking upstream

Coming to Australia as a British backpacker - where she worked as a barmaid and bar manager - it was mere chance that saw Netgear's Sue Ponder jump into IT.

Having been in the industry for seven years now, she has some plans up her sleeves to rev up the enterprise and education markets while making a name for the company at the top end of town that rivals its standing in the SMB space.

At the lower end, she said the company has about 5000 resellers doing about $1500 each per month.

How did you get involved with Netgear?

Sue Ponder (SP): I was working in channel and retail as the distribution manager at NetComm. About seven years ago, I was employed to set up retail for Netgear, starting as the retail manager. At that time, there weren't many networking products in the likes of Harvey Norman stores. I was employed to get the products into retail and it just got bigger from there.

What are some of the things you developed once landing at Netgear?

SP: I developed retail from scratch. I set up the team, organised the product ranges, names and point-of-sale. There were eight products in the retail range at that time but now there are about 100.

What are your top plans for this year?

SP: The challenge for Netgear is getting recognition at the higher end of town, the corporate end as well as the education space. We are very well known in the SMB space, but not with large enterprise. So we are running a lot of partner training, seminars and shows to educate resellers about the other products that we have. Everybody is aware of the commodity gear, but not the Layer 2 and Layer 3 switches, the VPN routers, the corporate wireless access points and the more sophisticated products.

Continuing growth in wireless is the other major focus. We just launched RangeMax - a line of wireless networking products. They are designed to give users a longer range and faster speeds.

The technology eliminates Wi-Fi network dead spots and optimises network performance. Instead of having one antenna, it has seven to provide users with a better range and signal.

What top trends is the company responding to?

SP: The next emerging technology will be VoIP - there are a number of products coming out at the end of May. Another is the strategy around broadband, which is also starting to emerge. ADSL2+ is starting to be rolled out and people are looking for these products as well as VoIP solutions.

While it is early days, I think it will be a recognised growth area by the end of the year.

The reason for the delay is a lot of the ISPs don't have the infrastructure yet. A lot of those guys are talking about it and trying to find ways of doing it. Initially, a lot of it will happen in the consumer range where they want to pick a box off the shelf, go home and plug it in. I think you'll start to see the products sold through the ISPs, who can put together a solution, and it will proliferate throughout the rest of the channel.

Are there any channel programs on tap for this year?

SP: We have already done technical reseller training in every state and that will continue throughout the year. In fact, we are looking at doing it twice a year.

We have three technical training courses for resellers at the moment: VPN, switch and wireless. Within that, there's also sales updates and information on product trends and product roadmaps. The training provides resellers with an in-depth and hands-on look at current technologies.

We also plan to look at launching a new education reseller program in the next few months. And while it's still not formalised, the main changes to the program will include adding rebates.

How does the company differentiate from the likes of Cisco, 3Com and D-Link?

SP: We are completely channel-based. There is no direct business. And because we don't have a huge team out there, we rely heavily on distribution and resellers. We partner with Ingram Micro, Synnex and a local distributor in each state. We are a young, dynamic company and are still enthusiastic about building the company.

Is the digital home a top focus area?

SP: We have got products that are available today: the MusicPlayer and a Digital Media Player, but it has not been taken up as we would expect. So yes, we have some products and the digital home was talked about last year, but it hasn't reached the expectations that everyone thought. When broadband uptake grows and you can actually use it for something - and when Microsoft gets the Media Center out there more effectively - the digital home story will improve.

Have you always been interested in IT?

SP: No, not at all. In my previous life I was in hospitality. I was offered temporary jobs and then got other jobs in retail. I've had many jobs. I have worked for oil companies and shoe companies; I worked in Spain for 12 months and was once employed by Pink Floyd's touring company. When I left school, I wanted to be in the music business.


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