Mobile Memories

Once upon a time….in a land not so far away, there was a mobile phone service provider called Talkland. They were based in Banbury, nr Oxford and their Managing Director was a large friendly chap called Peter Edwards.

Some of the cellsites team used to work for an Authorised Dealer of Talkland, in the South East (who will remain nameless) and have helped write these memories.

Now in those days mobiles were rather expensive! It was at the time that Cellnet had launched their “Lifetime” tariff for low users (to partner “Primetime” for Business Users). Vodafone also had an analogue tariff but we were never allowed to sell Vodafone.

“…typical charges were 50p per minute during the day and 20p off peak and weekends. None of this 1 sec billing! You paid for the first minute and then every 30 seconds. On the Old PrimeTime tariff you also had to pay extra for calls within the M25!…”

The first phone I ever sold was a Motorola Independent for some ridiculous (compared to today’s prices) amount not far off £200. No free minutes, no free accessories and if you wanted it on Lifetime you had to stay on the business tariff for 3 months and then pay £30 to change tariff! Also included was the NEC P100 featured below.

“…Other Handsets included, NEC P4 (Top of the Range), Ericsson Hotline (EH97), Nokia 101 (My First Phone), Panasonic F Series, Panasonic I Series and also not forgetting the good old Panasonic E Series Transportable…”

The NEC P100
2 line backlit Display | 24 number Memory | Signal strength indicator
Battery level indicator | Any key answer | Last Number Redial
DTMF dialing tones | Adjustable ringing volume | NiCad battery

Anyway, back to the story! Having completed my probation period and successfully learned how to sell analogue, then came the biggest scare of all!! A network called Digital or GSM!

Time for a course at Banbury HQ!

Talkland International
Pembroke House, Banbury Bus. Pk
Aynho Road, Adderbury
OX17 3NS
Tel: 01295 815000
Fax: 01295 815082

“…SIM? IMEI? Roaming? All these were new words that nobody felt confident in using! We were even offered an extra £5 in commission if we sold a digital phone…”

Now Digital was a funny old thing. It had a chip in it called a SIM Card and in 2 different sizes. Credit Card size and a small plug in type. Better still, you could take it abroad (subject to credit checking and invariably a £2000 deposit!).

The best thing though had to be the handsets e.g. The Nokia 1011 and later on the Orbitel 902!!

The Marvelous Chunky Nokia 1011
12h Standby (standard) | 80m Talk time (standard)
Weight 475g | 196x62x?? mm. (H x W x D)
Class 4 Port | Power: 2W
Price? £149-ish

Christmas – 1994/5 I think it was. I was posted to Crawley and all we sold all day and everyday was Mercury One2One Motorola m301’s and Motorola Flares. I can recall standing there one busy Saturday, all Red Bull’d up, banging on about bloody Mercury One2One, and doing myself out of commission!. Crazy!

It was shortly after this that we found out Vodafone were buying Talkland and turning it into their own brand of shops “Vodafone Retail”.

We didn’t like this, and our boss gave the two fingers to Vodafone and Talkland.

Although sad to say goodbye to our mates in Customer Services and Dealer Support, we looked forward, albeit uncertain, to the future.

Here’s a unique piece of Talkland History still in circulation and owned by Cellsites. A Talkland 3.5″ disc, from 1994 hand written by one of the dealer system people who came down from Banbury. I will never forget the day she came down. It was like thong city. Every where you went with her, it would some how give you a big “Peek-a-boo!”.

Welcome to UniqueAir

and hello to blue carrier bags that left your hands blue, lovely in store merchandising stuff, nice comms, more shops and Roger the delivery driver! (RIP)

So, having left Talkland, we then “jumped into bed” with UniqueAir. Better pricing, better commissions, nicely redecorated shops and nice new Point of Sale. Hmm Hmm!

UniqueAir were great! Free Diaries every year, trips up to Abingdon to go out on the lash, Phoning my mates in Distribution – Tina & Becca (Hi Guys!) and spending hours on the phone to them…Oh and trying to get a job with UniqueAir.

Phones such as the Samsung SH-710 – £9.99 with a free camera kit…the Panasonic J Series for £4.99 with a free leather case and car charger!!! WOW! Until now this was unheard of!

Even the digital GSM Phones were reasonably priced too!

Now, anyone who had anything to do with UniqueAir had 2 key people they used to hassle. Jan Odell who dealt with our Dealer System and Steve Lewis – The Dealer Manager (who you could never get hold of!) as well as people such as Norman & Ashley in Dealer Support.

I spent a good 3 years or so working under the umbrella of UniqueAir, had several phones with them (Vodafone and Cellnet) both Nokia 8110i’s!

Oh but what about Customer Services! Wow! Talk about call queuing system. You would phone up 08701 541300 and you could sit there for hours listening to the music on hold. This was even more so on a Saturday, and especially when you were trying to query why they had done something on a connection!

Having spent time in both retail & distribution I encountered the smooth and slick ways of UniqueAir Corporate. Playing with the big boys of Unique but the ones who would undercut you on a deal “because they could”!

UniqueAir and Orange! Well what a laugh that was. I can’t remember exactly but I vaguely remember selling Orange through UniqueAir and trying to persuade people that they did really want to pay £4.95 per month for insurance against Orange’s Free Insurance and No they didn’t get a free replacement phone within 24hours like Orange Customers did.

I missed the final days of UniqueAir as it was, because on September 1st 1999 a press release came out from Unipart – UniqueAir’s parent company stating they had been sold to Vodafone.



For release: 01 September 1999

Vodafone Distribution Limited, a subsidiary of Vodafone AirTouch Plc, has today announced it has reached agreement with Unipart Group Limited to acquire its service provider subsidiary UniqueAir Limited. The acquisition will be effective from 1 September 1999.

UniqueAir Limited has approximately 291,000 customers, some 70 per cent of whom are connected to the Vodafone network. The business is based in Abingdon, Oxfordshire and has a number of retail outlets in the South East. It has approximately 430 employees.

The consideration paid to Unipart is approximately £51 million, although the final price will be determined on agreement of completion accounts to be prepared after the acquisition.

Commenting, Peter Bamford, Chief Executive of Vodafone UK, said: “UniqueAir is one of the leading independent service providers and will form a valuable part of the Vodafone UK business portfolio. We have had a successful relationship with UniqueAir for many years and will be integrating the business into our UK distribution structure.”

John Neill, Group Chief Executive of Unipart Group of Companies added:

“The decision to sell UniqueAir was not easy but we were convinced that the company would have a more secure future as part of a global mobile telecommunications company. A fundamental part of our decision to sell to Vodafone was their commitment to maintain the Abingdon site and provide continuing job opportunities to our people.”

Other Headlines Included :-

Unipart dials up £51m deal
UNIPART has sold off its Abingdon-based mobile phone company UniqueAir to Vodafone for £51m

Vodafone acquires Abingdon firm
September 13 1999
Unipart Group’s service provider subsidiary UniqueAir, which is based at Abingdon and has a total of 430 employees, has been acquired by Vodafone Distribution, part of the Newbury mobile phone group, for £51 million

Once again the Big V had struck and that was the end of yet another of the Old School Service Providers.

Please come back UniqueAir we miss you!