Long gone are the days when being away from your desk meant being out of contact and unable to work. From early mobile phones to pagers and laptops, progression of the ability to work just as effectively and efficiently away from the office has been swift.
The emergence of smartphones as a viable work tool for many businesses has meant that developers and network operators have had to react accordingly to reflect the needs of today’s businesses phone user.
Not content with just being able to make calls, users now need the ability to send and receive emails, browse the Internet and read, edit and send documents and other attachments.
So what is out there for small and medium businesses?
Most mobile operators offer deals tailored to suit SMBs, with a large variety of phones also available. Wading through the vast array of offers can often seem a daunting task, so operators generally divide plans up into those for smaller, medium or larger businesses.
Most tariffs offer a variety of inclusive minutes, texts and data charges to tempt customers, so with a bit of shopping around, you should be able to find a deal that suits your company.
T-Mobile offers a shared plan, aimed at companies with two to 30 potential users. Prices start at £13.75 and contracts range from 12 to 36 months. O2’s business offering extends to ten users and offers unlimited calls to UK landlines and other O2 mobiles and unlimited emails and texts.
Orange recently announced a complete overhaul of its business tariffs, replacing its Venture and Momentum tariffs with the new Business Sense plan. This tariff offers plans tailored to a company’s needs, giving them option to choose the number of sharers, price and minutes.
The plan is split into 18, 24 and 36-month contracts, all with unlimited calls and texts between sharers, Orange Care phone insurance, free answer phone and free itemised billing. Business Sense also includes a mid-contract review.
The majority of business plans have a number of inclusive extras included as standard, but Business Sense does not. It lets customers pick and choose what extras they want, such as unlimited Orange to Orange calls, 3,000 landline minutes or a discount of up to 25%.
The question of what to look out for in a phone is much more complicated. Email synchronisation is now standard on smartphones, as is Internet browsing (See To Wi-Fi or not to Wi-Fi? below for a more detailed look at network connectivity).
For workers who need to access attachments such as Word files or PDFs, a phone with a larger screen is advisable, such as the Samsung Omnia i900, the HTC Touch HD and the SPV M3100, all offered by Orange.
To Wi-Fi or not to Wi-Fi?
2008 saw the release of two hotly-anticipated smartphones: Apple’s second generation iPhone 3G and Research in Motion’s (RIM) debut in the touchscreen smartphone arena, the BlackBerry Storm.
While there was a lot of consternation when Apple’s original iPhone was released without a 3G connection, it was nothing compared to the dismay that greeted RIM’s announcement that the Storm would be released without a Wi-Fi network connection.
The Storm instead relies on GSM/GPRS/EDGE/3G networks to stay connected. Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO of RIM, defended that decision in an interview with CBR.
“When you’re engineering something, you try to get as much as you can into the product, and we just couldn’t [add Wi-Fi], he said. We have 3D tools that allow us to pack every available millimetre. There’s no room left. The speaker is here, the antenna radiation field is there, then you have the camera, the flash, the microphone, the head set, there’s just no room left in there.”
Lazaridis added that there was not much difference between the two connections and described 3G as ubiquitous, meaning it is available in most areas. While that may be true, it is fair to say that 3G reception is not universal and even in major cities can be unreliable.
Almost all smartphones therefore offer a number of different connectivity options and will automatically switch to the strongest band available if its default network connection is out of range. The means workers on the move should never have to worry about finding the nearest open space in the hope of getting some reception.
A simple solution?
Smartphones and price plans are all very well if your business has a steady workforce, but what if your staffing levels fluctuate or you rely heavily on temporary staff? The cost of replacing or reconfiguring smartphones regularly can soon mount up, and if you are tied to a fixed contract you can be stuck with a smartphone you cannot use.
One possible solution to this is a SIM-only deal. With no fixed term contract it provides a much more cost effective option. The SIMs can be switched from one phone to another as workers come and go.
Orange’s Business SIM Only plan starts at £15 for a monthly rolling contract, offering 300 inclusive UK minutes and up to 100 inclusive texts. Tariffs for more than a single user start at £45, with 1,000 inclusive minutes and unlimited texts between sharers for up to five users. The top-end plan is £125 a month, with 3,000 minutes and a maximum of 15 users.
O2 also offers a SIM only deal – with tariffs divided up by size of business and frequency of use. Prices range from £18 a month for a small business regular user, with 300 inclusive minutes, to £40 for a medium business frequent user, offering 1,000 inclusive minutes.
Avoiding the switchover headache
For businesses that have already made the decision to switch communications supplier, one potential drawback is the inconvenience to workers and customers and the effect on productivity when making the move.
Recent research by Vanson Bourne suggested that 60% of businesses believe changing communications supplier is more difficult than changing IT supplier. Eight out of every ten respondents also said that the promise of a smooth transition would influence their decision making.
Thankfully, the mobile providers are getting the message. Orange, for example, hopes to reduce the pressure of switching supplier by introducing a Seamless Switch service. The new initiative is a portfolio of services designed to guarantee a smooth transition to a new supplier.
As well as a dedicated account team providing bespoke services tailored to the needs of a business, Orange will also provide device customisation services and tailored training programmes.
This should ensure that on the day the new service is live, all the mobile devices and SIM cards will be configured with the correct email accounts and phone numbers.
Orange also offers on-site analysis of its network in key locations to ensure the business receives optimal network coverage, while a dedicated Project Manager will be on hand to look after the logistics of the entire implementation process to ease the company’s burden.
Flexible billing structures and online payment services are also offered, which should enable smaller to medium sized companies, where time is often a precious commodity, to manage the payment process in a straightforward way.
This article is from the CBROnline archive: some formatting and images may not be present.
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