Mobile communications have transformed both personal and working life. Not only do most of us regard the mobile as one of the three items we check we have on leaving home - wallet or purse and keys are the other two - but the mobile number is likely to be the primary business phone number. Recent Quocirca research commissioned by RadioFrame Networks looking at the communications needs of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) backs this up. The contact routes that appear most on business cards are email address and mobile phone number, with switchboard numbers and especially direct dial fixed extensions lagging some way behind.
Loud and clear - SMBs get the message about unified mobile communications
- Email addresses and mobile phone numbers are the primary business contact points for all employees
Most SMB employees' business cards display an email address, and about eight in ten show a mobile phone number, whereas only two thirds will bother to mention a direct dial fixed extension these days. Surprisingly, the fax machine is not yet defunct as the majority of SMB employees still have a fax number on their cards, more so than list a web address.
- The mobile phone is the hub of SMB communications
Beyond simple telephony and text messaging, many SMBs use mobile phones for mobile email, web browsing and instant messaging both inside and outside the office. Even at a desk with a fixed phone, the mobile is the first preference for many employees wanting to make a call, despite the difference in cost.
- Even with careful operator selection, mobile reception is not always good, especially at home
More than a third of SMBs notice occasional problems getting mobile phone coverage at work, with employees sometimes having to move around the office, or even go outside to get a signal. At home, the problem is, if anything, worse, with almost half of companies noting that some employees will have difficulty getting coverage on their business mobile while at home.
- 3G phones have not made great inroads, but the use of 3G laptops is set to grow
Over half of SMBs have no plans for deploying 3G phones, but around 17% expect to roll out 3G laptops over the next year, adding to the one in three SMBs that have already. In some cases these will be laptops with 3G capability embedded, but even if not, external 3G modems have fallen in price and are available in a number of compact form factors. Mobile data tariffs are still a concern.
- IP telephony use started with ad hoc consumer products, but is now becoming more formal
Around a quarter of SMBs have other phone identities, such as Skype, on their business cards and use consumer IP telephony products to make business calls. However the use of commercial VoIP tools or services is growing, and will exceed the business use of consumer tools over the next year.
- Mobile voice and data airtime costs are high; assistance to control them would be valued
The flexibility might be worth it, but costs are still an issue. SMBs are open to ideas like fixed mobile convergence-offering both services from a single device-providing it delivers value without requiring substantial upfront investment. Most of them think this is an area where mobile operators can help, giving those operators an opportunity to grab fixed call minutes and revenues.
- Broadband could help to curb mobile call costs and bundling both services is attractive
Many SMBs already pay for their employees' mobile phones and just under half provide and pay for some of their employees' broadband connections. Over half of SMBs would be interested in using broadband capacity to reduce mobile call costs, and almost as many say they would value the idea of both broadband and mobile services bundled together.
CONCLUSION: The mobile networks have become vital for SMBs; not only for employees making mobile phone calls, but sending and receiving data-in small amounts on phones or larger volumes on laptops with Wi-Fi and cellular data cards. However, not only are mobile phones one of the more expensive ways to make voice calls, there are intermittent times when calls cut out as signal strength fails. Making a call from a mobile handset is increasingly the default action of many employees and SMBs want to manage costs and ensure adequate coverage-either in the office or at home.