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Telcos ‘doomed’ claims ‘virtual comms provider’

Comms and Net access cheaper through brokers, reckons a broker

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Phone companies and ISPs seem to excel themselves in annoying their customers with poor service. But they may be cut out of the loop if new companies such as Unica, a London-based self-styled "virtual communications provider" succeed.

Unica acts as an intermediary, offering fixed voice, data, mobile and ASP services to business users. It is independent and therefore can change suppliers of airtime, products and other services according to who is doing the best deal at the moment. The customer deals only with Unica, who offers 24-7 support as well as a single monthly bill.

Noel Dunn, joint MD of the company - and a former banker who considers himself lucky not to have the "burden" of being in the industry for more than a year - reckons the telcos are doomed.

"Carrier brands are regarded by users with contempt but it is impossible for telcos to change to a customer focus, even the new entrants," he said.

Dunn claimed that players such as BT or MCIWorldCom push technologies according to their own agenda. Comms managers don't feel they are being offered cutting edge technologies where appropriate but they don't have time to check out different suppliers.

Unica's scheme is to do it for them (and it already does for customers such as the London Business School and Intelliquest). That said, it's questionable whether Unica can, as it promises, deliver a seamless service given that they have a raft of supplier relationships to manage. Some services, such as Web hosting, will not be that easy to move between suppliers.

Unica isn't the first company in the field. For a start, European Telecoms and Technology (formerly European Communications Services) has been offering a similar service to multinationals for the past two years. However, it doesn't offer mobile comms and is only now expanding into providing IT services. Elsewhere, Talk is a broker targeting the residential market for fixed voice calls with a least-cost routing service whereby it acts as the broker placing calls with the cheapest provider for that route and time of day.

And, of course, such companies are only one small stage removed from operations like Planet Talk that offer cut-price overseas calls.

These companies will enable us to escape arrogant treatment from today's phone companies, but will they themselves be any better? Time will tell. ®

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