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Installation by Aastra at site of insurer Aviva.
Installation by Aastra at site of insurer Aviva.

Your Business Abroad

Big Canadian telecom player starts small in India Add to ...

When Delhi hosts the Commonwealth Games next month, players and officials could have their phone calls routed through a private branch exchange (PBX) system made by Aastra Technologies Ltd.

And if the local police get involved in a complaint, chances are the call will be routed through another machine from Aastra, based in Concord, Ont.

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Three years ago, Aastra had no presence in India. Now it has big plans for the world’s second-hottest growth market after China. The public company, founded in 1983, records annual revenue in excess of $800 million and employs some 2,400 worldwide. It has slowly pressed its global footprint by acquiring companies overseas. Its Indian presence is thanks to its buyout in 2008 of the enterprise unit of Sweden’s Ericsson. Now the company has thousands of customers in the country.

What does this have to do with small business? Aastra has only 10 employees in India, who operate out of an elegant building on the outskirts of Delhi, tastefully adorned with polished black granite sculptures.

Though the customer base arrived through an acquisition, Aastra is enhancing its future prospects in India by following a two-pronged formula: use local partners and employees as much as you can, but reach out directly to your customers and offer feedback to Canadian-based research and development folks to keep the business growing in the exploding world of telecommunications.

Aastra makes Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones and switching systems that compete against high-tech giants such as Alcatel Lucent, Siemens and Avaya, and it has a cut-price competitor in Japan’s NEC. Its gear is imported in India from its manufacturing unit in Sweden.



Phone setup by Aastra Technologies at insurer Aviva, with a picture of Indian cricket star Sachin Tendulkar, who is the brand ambassador for Aviva.



“We had an aggressive partner in HCL,” says Swapan Baidya, managing director of Aastra’s Indian unit.

HCL, a respected Indian IT group, helps Aastra push and service its products from 130 locations. Aastra adds about five to 10 large customers every month in addition to dozens of smaller ones. Customers include big names such as Accenture and one centre of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology.

If partners are doing a lot of the hard work, what exactly does Aastra takes ownership of? “Design and quality stay with the parent company,” Mr. Baidya says. “Before shipping a product you have to test a lot of things.”

The company focuses on training its partners in pre-sales, sales and after-sales, leaving the aggressive service work to them, but it takes charge of developing the market for future customers. Aastra, breaking away from the Ericsson model, now talks directly to Indian customers to sell its advantages.

“The direct touch was not there in the Ericsson days,” Mr. Baidya says.

The company plans to develop market segments in the manufacturing sector and defence establishments. It also has a systematic loop-back to further develop its products. For instance, while digital phones are now widely used, Aastra still has to deal with old-fashioned analog phones for some customers in India. It has tweaked its technology to build in a caller ID feature, says Anurag Kumar, vice-president of sales at Aastra.

Aastra spends about 10 per cent of its revenue on research and development and it is currently busy working on desktop phones that function like computers because they have to connect with software platforms such as Nokia’s Symbian and Google’s Android, in addition to Microsoft’s and Apple’s operating systems.

It sees a great deal of potential in the world of unified communications, in which mobile handsets, Internet-linked computers and telecom networks blend seamlessly to add video, voice and text capabilities in a variety of combinations and conveniences.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Narayanan Madhavan is associate editor of the business news pages of Hindustan Times, a leading Indian daily newspaper. He has previously worked for Reuters, the international news agency, as well as The Economic Times and Business Standard, India's leading business dailies. Though focused mainly on business and economic journalism with a strong focus on information technology and the Internet, he has also covered or written about issues including politics, diplomacy, cinema, culture, cricket and social issues. He has an honours degree in economics and a master's degree in political science from the University of Delhi.

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