Carrier Services Key To Tech Data-Brightstar Venture

Earlier this month, Tech Data unveiled ActivateIT, a joint venture with Brightstar through which Tech Data will essentially serve as a go-between for VARs wanting to sell mobile devices and the telecom service to activate them.

The service, a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering known as TDMobility, will enable solution providers to purchase carrier service as if they would a SKU-ed mobile device from the distributor, so that when VARs are selling mobile devices to end customers, they can add that "last mile" of connectivity but leave the hassle of dealing with carriers -- from service sign-up to activation -- to Tech Data and Brightstar.

For the carrier piece, ActivateIT serves as the master agent in the deal. The joint venture is based in the U.S. and leverages OTBT, a wireless solution provider acquired by Brightstar in 2010 and previously a single-source outlet for wireless devices, activation services and software.

"What it's going to look like, it's we're, to use an expression, going to 'SKU-it-ize' activation to a reseller," said Greg Parsonson, Tech Data vice president, corporate development. "It's been challenging for them to work directly with the carriers and preventing them from wanting to be a full activation platform for customers."

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As the IT reseller and telecom sales agent worlds continue to converge, many traditional VARs are looking at carrier services -- and the carrier agent model -- with fresh eyes. One of the problems, Parsonson said, is that many solution providers are discouraged by carrier commission payments that arrive sometimes months down the line. He said ActivateIT plans to handle that, too.

"We're going to ensure they get paid in 30 days," Parsonson said. "The reseller is going to see consistent cash flow."

Solution providers will be able to use TDMobility in a few different ways, including selling both products and services through a customized portal provided by Tech Data, in the style of a private-label delivery. The end user, in that case, would have access to its hardware, voice and data plans and the ability to manage them within that ActivateIT-provided, VAR-sold portal. ActivateIT also will be an intermediary for service issues in plans sold through the venture.

AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint have all signed on with Tech Data to participate in TDMobility and, according to Parsonson, discussions continue with Verizon. Any eligible device from those carriers, from smartphones to tablets, will be available for TDMobility, with the exception of Apple's iPhone.

"The carriers have made it very clear that that one's not on the table," Parsonson said. "I imagine that's coming from Apple."

ActivateIT will see a "phased rollout" over the next few months with about 20 solution providers, and the plan is expected to be available to all Tech Data partners by the end of the year. That includes everyone, Parsonson said, from the "DMRs down to the smallest, SMB reseller."

Parsonson said he's confident Tech Data will come to an agreement with Verizon. Smaller, regional carrier services will also be considered for the program.