Upcoming Conference: Mitel Freedom Partner Event

by Dave Michels

Busy time of year for conferences… the next event is what used to be known as Mitel Forum. Many of you know that I have a long history with Mitel. I’ve always been impressed with their products and their chairman Terry Mathews.

Mitel should be more more successful and larger than it is. As a traditional telephony player that was pigeon holed in hospitality the company generally occupied the “Other” category on most PBX market reports. Then Terry Mathews, the company’s original founder returned to Mitel around 2000 declaring the future as VoIP.

The ship started turning, shedding unrelated business, and focusing on VoIP long before Nortel, Avaya, and many others observed the change in the wind. Mitel became (a leaner) private firm. The company worked hard to preserve its core while expanding out of hospitality. Mitel does better than any vendor in upgrading rather than end of life its products. Both the SX2000 and SX200 TDM platforms continue to have strong migration paths to the latest and greatest Mitel offers. The Mitel 3300 emerged as its strategic and comprehensive platform – about 10 years ago and it remains a cutting edge platform (appliance, virtualized, multi tenant, and even hosted).

Mitel is an engineering driven company and consistently very early with features. Early with VoIP, POE, Teleworking, unified messaging, mobility solutions, IP conferencing, virtualization, and more. Mitel was the first of the trad players that announced a rich solution that didn’t involve or require Mitel phones.
Mitel products are well thought out and generally ahead of the curve. But the company consistently suffers from bad timing.

  • Company won CompUSA and rolled it out as a marquee account just before they went bankrupt
  • Company was the first to really integrate PDAs into the desktop phones just before smartphones killed that sector off.
  • A very strong partnership with RIM and its MVS suite, just as RIM’s share began sliding. 
  • Company saw need for industry consolidation and acquired Inter-Tel at the peak of its value and before the most recent recession.
  • Company did its IPO in a bad IPO market – likely necessitated by the bad timing of acquiring Inter-Tel.
  • Mitel had a major strategic alliance with Sun on multiple levels and then Sun got acquired by Oracle.

Despite all this, Mitel is developing an impressive and broader story than most realize.

  • Impressive worldwide distribution, particularly in middle east and UK.
  • Branded carrier services – allowing Mitel to ride the popularity of SIP as well as bundle equipment and circuits into a monthly bill. MitelAdvUC
  • MVNO – Mitel has its own mobile network services – the fastest growing segment of telecom.
  • Private Cloud: No other company has established a comparable level of support or partnership with VMware – the leader in virtualization.
  • Service provider strategy with its core products optimized for service providers and recurring licensing.
  • Thin client strategy with Oracle Sun Rays – the virtual desktop is expected to grow, but it isn’t new for everyone. Sun has been at it for a long time. Mitel/Sun offer a thin client desktop that does it all.
  • Public Cloud. Mitel is now directly offering hosted phone service per month per user – ahead of many of its competitors.

Basically, Mitel has a broad strategy in several relevant technical sectors of the business, equipment, cloud, carrier, and mobility. The question is can Mitel break out of its known surroundings and actually claim the share of the market its innovation deserves. This minor falls into the lap of two key people.

Terry Mathews, its chairman, has a track record in this space tarnished only by Mitel itself. Terry Mathews not only has a stellar telecom and investment resume of success, but an entire ecosystem of companies that leverage and strengthen Mitel’s offerings.

Richard McBee, the new CEO. Mitel management has been very stable, but Don Smith took his leave soon after the IPO – Richard McBee started last January. He is sandwiched between Terry the visionary and Paul Butcher (President) who tends to make things happen (quickly and comically). 
It will be interesting to learn more about how Mitel plans to compete with the big marketing gorillas (Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft) as well as the likes of Siemens, ShoreTel and NEC. The event is taking place in Ft. Lauderdale in June.