T-Mobile Keeps Eyes On The Channel Amid AT&T Merger Turmoil

While regulatory challenges to the AT&T's pending acquisition of T-Mobile USA have, at least temporarily, thrown the fate of T-Mobile into question, Matt Millen, T-Mobile’s vice president of small and medium business sales, is confident of one thing:

’There’s never been a better time to do business with T-Mobile,’ Millen told CRN.

Now more than ever, mobility is seen as a critical cog in the wheel of any company’s communications infrastructure, and Millen said that VARs have a ’massive opportunity’ to start selling mobile devices and attaching wireless services that will seriously add to their bottom line.

’For many resellers this a new opportunity that represents margin enhancement a stronger share of wallet within their customers,’ Millen said. ’Because of the convergence going on, now what we’re seeing with the IT VAR now has an opportunity to go be proficient in this solution set, garner more business and attain more margin on the sales they’re doing.’

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Millen said that T-Mobile is supporting and educating VARs who want to take advantage of the mobility buzz. T-Mobile’s channel program isn’t ’one size fits all,’ he said. Instead, it’s a flexible, tiered program with different levels of partnership. And T-Mobile channel reps understand how to mesh wireless services with the traditional IT reseller channel. (Millen himself was with Tech Data for seven years before joining T-Mobile.)

’We take their success very seriously as an extension of our success,’ Millen said. ’It’s a very hands-on model to make sure we get these folks up and running successfully, and then support their business along the way.’

T-Mobile partners would seem to agree.

Bill Trout, vice president of mobility at AB&T Telecom, a telecom and IT solution provider based in Gaithersburg, Md., said that from a support standpoint T-Mobile’s partner program is ’unparalleled’ in the industry, with daily communication from his T-Mobile representative, and regular training sessions to keep agents up to speed on the newest devices and network build-outs.

AB&T Telecom has been a T-Mobile ’master dealer’ since 2003. Master dealers are free to broker deals on their own, but they also support sub-dealers, helping them to quote deals, and providing them with devices they can’t source through T-Mobile. ABT Telecom currently supports between 30 and 40 sub-dealers.

Ken Currie, director of business and marketing at Barcoding, Inc., a systems integrator in the supply chain and data capture space, said that T-Mobile got a lot of things right as it’s matured from a consumer-oriented to a channel-friendly carrier.

In addition to selling the typical mobility solutions with a voice component, like smartphones and tablets, most of the Baltimore-based Barcoding’s mobility business comes from the M2M (machine-to-machine) side, fashioning M2M communications solutions within industries like healthcare, manufacturing and distribution, and facilities management.

Currie said Barcoding’s relationship with T-Mobile is a ’symbiotic’ one, in which T-Mobile sees their specific expertise in vertical industries as a value-add, engaging them often in complex opportunities.

And although the systems integrator has relationships with all the major mobile carriers, Currie said Barcoding likes to bring its business back to T-Mobile.

’We really engage them as often as they engage us,’ he said. ’They have a sophisticated channel structure to support their partner relationships. I think they did their homework. Their field-based teams are very much incentivized to work with companies like mine. They’re engaged, because they know if they can bring the right solution it will make them more relevant to their prospect. I think [T-Mobile] did all the right things when they launched this program.’

NEXT: Merger On Their Minds

AB&T Telecom’s Trout said that the pending merger with AT&T is coming up in about 95 percent of his conversations with potential clients these days. Particularly with larger deals, some customers are feeling reluctant to commit to T-Mobile, he said.

’Obviously there is some uneasiness surrounding the pending merger either way it goes, whether they come together or whether it’s blocked and T-Mobile is left as a standalone carrier,’ said Trout. ’We see that uncertainty out in the marketplace.’

But it’s not all bad news. Conversely, Trout said the merger is also helping to drive some business through the channel, as clients race to lock-in T-Mobile’s signature lower rates on calling plans, which AT&T has promised to honor after the deal goes through.

Barcoding’s Currie said the pending acquisition hasn’t stopped him from selling or slowed his business.

’We know that the network is going to be around in one way, shape, or form,’ Currie said. ’There are advantages [of the merger] from a coverage standpoint. We’re very customer-centric, and if we felt that there was business risk we would be sensitive to that.’

T-Mobile’s Millen said uncertainty about the merger hasn’t stopped the momentum the carrier has built in the channel.

’Partners are eager to sign up with T-Mobile because of the energy we have in terms of driving our business through the channel,’ he said. ’I think it’s a very exciting time for our partners. This is only the front end of this.’