Understand how they work and what you should expect
Communication is vital for businesses. Whether you do it by means of email, text or speaking on the phone, you need to stay in touch with your customers and suppliers. That means regardless as to whether you’re in the market for cheap business broadband or are looking for the best landline or mobile deal, you need to establish a relationship with one or more communications companies. In this article we will be covering everything you need to know about Business Phone Providers UK.
Fortunately, when it comes to choosing business phone providers UK markets offer more competition and more choice than ever before. This means that you have the opportunity to compare costs and services from a number of different companies and make sure that you get the best deal for your needs.
While much of the UK’s traditional telephony network infrastructure is owned and operated by Openreach – formerly part of BT, deregulation means it’s possible to buy your phone and internet services from whomever you please, in the same manner as with gas and electricity supply. These services will still be delivered over the Openreach network.
Types of phone service
Before you start to look at your options it’s important to understand the various types of service that business phone providers UK operations can provide. Where telephone lines for voice use are concerned, essentially these are divided into three types:
* Analogue phone lines: these are the standard lines that have been around since the invention of the telephone. They allow one call per line but where a business phone line is required, the use of private exchange equipment (PABX) can allow a number of users to share a line or lines in order to make maximum use of it.
* Multiple lines: having more than one line to the same PABX means that your customers won’t hear an engaged tone if they call when the first line is engaged and staff will find it easier to dial out.
* ISDN2: short for Integrated Services Digital Network, these are digital circuits that support both voice and data transmission. An ISDN2 line can support a minimum of two concurrent calls with a suggested maximum of up to eight and delivers better quality of calls than an analogue line.
* ISDN30: these lines use the same technology as ISDN but each service can support a maximum of 30 concurrent calls, with the opportunity to add additional bearers to support even more calls, making it suitable for larger organisations and for providing direct dial numbers for employees.
In considering business telephone line suppliers you will also need to think about other services you may need in addition to your voice lines. You will almost certainly need an internet connection, so it’s worth looking at whether it’s possible to get a better deal by combining services from the same supplier.
You can of course use the internet for your calls which complicates things further, but we’ll come to that later. Some providers will also allow you to roll your business smartphones into the package too, ensuring that you have all of your business communications under one umbrella.
Phone line prices
If you’re running a small business and using your domestic phone line, it may surprise you to learn that switching to a business service could actually save you money. You will pay a line rental in the same way as you would for a domestic line, but rates vary between suppliers so check what’s on offer.
Business line packages are often modular in nature. The cost will, therefore, vary depending upon what you want
as part of your service. We’ll look at some of the features you may be offered in the next section.
The main cost you’ll incur from telephone line suppliers is usually call charges.
As with a domestic line calls are divided into groups for charging:
1. Local calls
These are calls to numbers with the same dialling code as your phone number, as well as numbers with dialling codes for areas which border your code area.
2. National calls
These are calls to numbers within the UK that’s don’t fall under the ‘local’ definition above.
3. International calls
These are calls made outside the UK, rates vary depending upon the country you’re calling.
4. Mobile calls
These are calls to mobile numbers within the UK. International mobiles will be charged at international rates.
5. 0870, 0871, 0872 & 0873 calls
These are chargeable numbers, they are commonly used by businesses so that, for example they can allow customers to call at local rates regardless as to their location.
6. 0800, 0808 and 05xx numbers
These are freephone numbers that can be called without charge.
All of this is further complicated because charges vary depending on the time of day, so you also need to understand:
7. Peak calls
These are calls made at times when call traffic volumes are highest (these can differ depending upon your service provider, but usually they encompass calls made between 7am and 6pm). These calls will usually attract a higher rate.
8. Off-peak calls
As the name suggests, these are calls made outside the peak hours. Off-peak calls will generally be charged at a lower rate.
When considering a particular plan, it is, therefore, essential that you consider the types of numbers you call most often, and the times at which you call them. Many business phone providers UK packages will allow you to negotiate discounts for the types of numbers you phone most often.
Pricing can become complex and many providers try to simplify things by offering pre-packaged calling plans. These are similar to the type of deal you might get on a mobile package, so, for example, you might get line rental, 500 free minutes to mobile numbers and free off-peak calls to local numbers rolled into a single monthly rate with other calls charged on top.
If your business is international and you often call overseas numbers, there are specific packages that can give you a discount on international call charges. On the other hand, if most of your business is within your own area then you should be looking for a free local call package.
Calls are of course charged by the minute – or part thereof. However, it’s sometimes possible to get capped deals where, for example, calls may have a maximum cost of, say, 12p between specified hours regardless as to how long they last.
There are certain features you may want to consider when choosing a business telephone provider. Very often these will incur extra charges, so it’s important to weigh up their importance to you. If your business relies upon customers calling in – taxi firms for example – you might want to have an easy-to-remember number. Similarly, businesses operating nationwide often choose to have 087x numbers that allow their customers to call at local rate. In this case, you pay for part of the call cost, so again consider the option with care. Call centres often use freephone numbers so that customers aren’t charged for the call at all.
You will also need to look at other features you require such as caller-line identification (CLI) and voice mail services. You may also want to be able to divert calls, for example to a mobile when staff are out of the office. It’s important if you have your own PABX to ensure that any services like this from your supplier are compatible with your system. If you still use fax – the 1980s send their regards – you need to consider how that fits in too.
If you have employees who are out in the field, whether sales or service staff, then you can look at linking your company mobile phones into your system so that calls can be easily diverted and field staff have access to features such as diversion of calls and lower calling costs.
As we said above, the internet has added some complication when it comes to choosing business telephony, but it’s also added some opportunities too. You’re no doubt familiar with systems such as Skype that allow computer to computer calling. This uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to make calls over the internet.
Many businesses are now seeing the attraction of using VoIP for their business phone systems. More reliable internet connections mean that there are fewer issues with call quality than there were a few years ago. And of course VoIP isn’t restricted to calling between computers, you can make calls to conventional landline and mobile phones too. While you will be charged for this, it’s a lot cheaper than conventional call rates, especially if you’re calling overseas
You don’t need to have a computer and a geeky headset to make calls. VoIP phones are available that look and work just like a normal desktop handset but allow you all of the advantages of internet calling. Modern PABX systems often let you combine normal and VoIP telephony.
The PABX, of course, can be a major expense for businesses and it needs on-going maintenance to ensure that extension numbers are kept up to date with staff moves, etc. The internet provides an alternative here too, with PABX-as-a-Service (PABXaaS) systems.
This is effectively a PABX in the cloud that gives you all the advantages of a sophisticated, modern phone system without the need for any hardware on site. It gives you all the features of an in-house system such as voice mail, call diversion, call logging and so on.
There are added benefits to PABXaaS too; it can be accessed from anywhere there’s a broadband internet connection. This means that even your homeworkers can be called via your central ‘switchboard’ number and can similarly make ‘internal’ calls to other staff within the company.
Because the system is in the cloud, it’s kept up to date by the provider so you have no need to worry about software and security updates. Your in-house administrators can set up accounts, allocate extension numbers, block calls, access logs and so on from a web-based portal, making administration of the system straightforward.
PABXaaS will be cheaper than the cost of buying or renting in-house hardware, plus of course you save on power and other costs of running and maintaining the system. There’s also the benefit of greater flexibility; if you need to take on more staff you won’t be caught out by the lack of available resources as the cloud system is almost infinitely expandable. All you’ll need to buy is extra handsets.
If you are relying upon your business phone service, then you also need to look seriously at the levels of support that you’re likely to receive. Low-cost services may look attractive, but they represent false economy if they’re not reliable.
Looking at the level of support that’s on offer is, therefore, a critical aspect in choosing your service provider. Commercial landline packages generally come with a higher level of customer support than their domestic equivalents. You need a service provider that understands the fact that breakdowns can hurt your business and lead to lost revenue. Business phone line providers should look to fix problems as quickly as possible. However, as with any service you pay for as a business, there will be varying levels of support on offer, so take the time to assess the right one for your needs and weigh up reliability against cost.
There’s no doubt that business users now have more choice when it comes to servicing their telephone needs. There are many more providers in the market and they offer a plethora of different packages. While this is good, more choice also means you need to spend more time finding the deal that’s right for you.
The growth of internet-based services has added to the range of options and the lines between web and conventional communication have become increasingly blurred. Any decision, therefore, is going to be based upon an assessment of the types of calls you need to make; how your customers get in touch with you; what provision you need for expansion; the level of support you need; and of course how much it’s all going to cost.
It’s important to understand the various types of services that business phone providers UK can provide. Whether you’re upgrading an existing system, looking to change service provider, or have the luxury of starting from scratch, getting the choice right is vital for the long-term success of your business.