From Radio to Hosted Communications

They say life begins at 40 and that certainly seems to be the case for Bury-headquartered Pennine Telecom who are now developing new income streams for their business.

As the company founded in 1976 as a two-way radio servicing specialist celebrates its 40th anniversary, it is set to extend its reach into new markets.

This follows diversification of the now £8m business into technologies outside its original specialism, with the company now serving an impressively broad range of clients with voice, data, networks, radio and mobile expertise.

Always prepared to embrace and exploit new challenges and opportunities, it is now set to enter the hosted market that, thanks to a long awaited kick-start by the UK incumbent carrier BT, it sees as being the next market explosion.

It’s all a far cry from the day managing director Andrew Roberts joined the business from college as a radio service technician in 1978. That was just two years after Pennine was founded as a partnership, with annual turnover debuting at £114,000. Andrew is one of many long-term Pennine employees to have witnessed and contributed to the company’s transformations over the past four decades

The first was heralded by the 80s liberalisation of the industry brought about by the Telecommunications Act. Recognising the opportunity in 1983 Pennine Telecom started selling answerphones, £1,000+ fax machines, intercoms and single telephones.

“At the time you could only get a ‘phone through British Telecom on a £3.20 quarterly rental and we were selling them outright for £25. It was a no brainer,” recalls Andrew.

Pennine swiftly seized opportunities presented by the gradual rolling out of market freedoms, in 1984 starting to sell systems offering up to 16 extensions, then in 1986, 32. “We began by testing our new found expertise by installing Detewe E12 systems in our friends’ businesses. You have to remember Pennine was a radio firm so we had to learn everything about telecoms from scratch – and we wanted to ensure we had a strong customer proposition from day one,” recalls Andrew who helped lead the business up that steep learning curve.

“The other system was the Vision 2000 which was designed and built for the channel by Intercom Nottingham. That was really cutting edge. It had 32 extensions, three party conferencing, paging and a VIP module that offered 20 additional programmable features.”

Pennine quickly embedded itself in the telecoms sector, fuelling rapid growth which would see turnover breaching £1m in 1985 and £5m a decade later. A state-of-the-art business centre followed in 1999 when the company moved to Bury from neighbouring Heywood.

A business constantly transforming itself underwent another major change in 2003 courtesy of a management buy-out from the company’s retiring founding directors. Andrew together with sales director Geoff King and radio communication director Steve Ryan – who retired last year – took over, truly letting the corporate cork out of the bottle, with expansion and acclaim being built upon those solid business foundations.

Under their stewardship the business has anticipated and embraced technological change and captured and retained an impressive client list that includes British Aerospace, Sellafield and the Lowry Centre. Its customer base also spans a broad range of markets, such as the nuclear and manufacturing industries, further and higher education sectors and professional services.

In addition, greater focus has been placed upon personnel development and training, with Pennine investing heavily in product related qualification pathways and apprenticeships, becoming a particularly vocal advocate for the latter. This is perhaps not surprising given both Andrew and Geoff rose from the ranks of apprentices to the Board.

The company has also completed ground-breaking projects, including installing the first home broadband network for an English school, an award-winning initiative which was later extended to provide free Wi-Fi to local residents and grabbed national media attention.

So what next? “The cloud, which has developed very quickly in other countries, is clearly going to gain rapid traction in the UK now. We’re ready for that, with our own hosted telephony proposition at an advanced stage of development,” says Andrew.

“Reflecting on Pennine’s 40 years, it’s proven that technology helps us to work smarter, more so now than ever and all businesses need to embrace it if they are to compete in today’s world,” he adds. “Looking ahead The Internet of Things presents us with very exciting and challenging opportunities – the true extent of which is yet to be seen.”

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine