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Hosted standard set by Marsden | Armstrong Bell

03 September 2014

Hosted standard set by Marsden | Armstrong Bell Managing Director Dr Stuart Marsden has forged a course that nudges the boundaries of what's technically possible, and his latest triumph could set a new standard for hosted comms platforms.

Dr Stuart Marsden feels most at home advancing the frontiers of technology. So much so that operating in unfamiliar territory has become his comfort zone.

Pushing the boundaries of what's possible and turning vision into reality is his trademark, and soon the comms channel will recognise Marsden as a true pioneer in the development of VoIP. "I have worked at the forefront of emerging technologies my whole life," he explained. "From designing computers and software that explored 40-dimensional hyperspace in the 1970s, to 3D graphics and CGI animation in the 1980s, and financial services during the 1990s."

In 2003 Marsden was involved in a business that began to look at VoIP. The emergence of SIP caught his eye and he decided to set up a company to develop VoIP solutions. "I approached Simon Gregory, who is the best all-round software engineer I have ever worked with," noted Marsden. "With his experience and my own and my wife, Sarah's, background in business, I knew the three of us had all the skills we needed to get the business off the ground. I was also able to fund the project without the need for external investors, having one company sale and a FTSE flotation behind me."

For the last decade has been at the leading edge of Internet telephony, quietly developing and delivering state-of-the-art hosted platforms. But VoIP was all about cheap calls in the early days and the technology (routers, connectivity etc) was not fit for purpose. "While the technology matured we continued to develop our platform and targeted a system for SMEs," explained Marsden. "Some of our first customers were satellite-based, and we still do a lot of voice over satellite today."

In 2006 launched a white labelled version of its platform for one of the larger telecoms companies. This system grew to support hundreds of sub-resellers. "Our submersion in the channel was complete and over the next few years we resisted constant requests from resellers to launch a carrier-neutral version of the platform," said Marsden.

"But by 2010, some of the early VoIP players had fallen by the wayside. While a few companies were trying to bend Asterisk into a hosted platform, it was now clear that a single US-based softswitch vendor was starting to dominate the UK market. These were ideal conditions for Version 2.0 of our hosted platform, one that was carrier agnostic, truly white labelled and more competitively priced compared to PBX and other hosted solutions. Initial interest was even better than we expected, and Altos was born." has been able to retain all the agility and enthusiasm of a start-up, but with a solid track record on delivery. "We can demonstrate that we are a safe pair of hands," added Marsden. "We are passionate about quality and operate a ‘zero-defect' policy coupled with effective process automation. This means that we have been able to grow our base and still remain lean.

"We do not resell or mark-up products and services that we have not created ourselves. This puts the reseller back in the driving seat, free to select the best products from their preferred suppliers. It also avoids the ‘one supplier fits all' model. The importance of this power shift should never be underestimated. This approach creates a market where our preferred technology partners - SIP trunk providers, IP phone vendors, CPE fulfilment etc - can grow as we grow. To date, much of our growth has come from personal recommendations and word of mouth. This is custom we value very highly, but in the next phase of our development we need to be more visible across the channel and to develop our sales and marketing activities."

Marsden's deep experience as a board member of a FTSE company has helped to ensure that retains the characteristics of a small family run company even as it scales up significantly over time. "I have seen first-hand how staff numbers can get away from you," commented Marsden. "In every large company there is a small core of key people who truly understand the technology around the product. We believe that we can achieve everything we need to do with just that small core of no more than 10 staff, supported by efficient, reliable automated processes alongside effective working partnerships."

These solid foundations are a reflection of the company's financial strength. It has no debt and is 100 per cent owned by the directors. "We own all our equipment in our growing number of data centres outright," commented Marsden. "Our Altos revenues are growing by at least five per cent per month compound and we are adding new channel partners every few days. With a phenomenal pipeline, we see no reason why this should not accelerate."

An increasing number of resellers will choose to grow by using their skills to act as aggregators for their own sub-resellers. On the flip side, the number of companies with the skills and experience to develop and manufacture their own products from scratch is likely to remain low. This is how will continue to differentiate. "We already hold a patent for technology to mitigate against CPE router issues, and we will continue to innovate," added Marsden. currently has live traffic with more than 15 SIP trunk providers, two of which are not UK-based. Expanding overseas would be a natural progression now that hosted telephony is mainstream and the market is becoming increasingly competitive. And at some point, wholesale prices will come under pressure. "As we own all our own intellectual property rights, we are well placed to continue to compete in this new world," added Marsden. "With our Altos subscription charges as low as £1.95 per month for a fully functional seat, some might say we have already started the trend."

We hope you've found this article informative, you might also like to read about Hosted Voice options or Business Mobile solutions.

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