In terms of technology, there’s little difference between the telephone lines installed at the beginning of the 20th century into a few big businesses and those used today by most small businesses..
Copper cables carry analogue signals comprising of fluctuations in voltage, from speaker to receiver. So, it’s therefore not surprising (or high time) that Openreach and BT are stopping new analogue landline rollouts by 2025. That’s actually great news for small businesses, which have been paying well over the odds for years now for outdated services that offer little more than one-to-one, low-quality voice calls and no smart features.
BT’s decision should spur most businesses to “go digital”, but historically, those pure-play digital comms services have been primarily focused on the high-end, enterprise sector.
Some big-name providers have paid lip service to the micro-business sector (Cisco’s acquisition of Linksys in 2003 to address the SMB market, for example), but in the main, fully digital services for UK micro-businesses have been third-rate, expensive, and built for IT departments that need limited support.
For one company, bOnline, however, the 2025 cut-off date represents significant opportunities. We spoke exclusively to the company’s CEO, Anthony Karabian, recently, who told us that even one-man bands out there should be equipped with high-speed fibre-optic broadband connectivity and digital phone systems (like VoIP). These are just the type of technologies previously only available to businesses with enterprise-scale budgets.
For bOnline, providing these essentials is bread-and-butter business, and the figures do seem to make sense. After all, companies have been paying £30+ per month for “line rental” and calls for years. Now, they can get a digital line with a local geographic number for a cost starting at £6. Plus, being digital, the capability comes with features like call divert, hunt groups, HD voice call clarity and app control. Karibian told us: “A VoIP digital phone system and full-fibre connectivity are now within the reach of a small business and that’s very exciting […] It’s exciting to be part of this disruptive change because we know the impact digital has on small businesses.”
In many ways, something like VOIP is a no-brainer. Even a single freelancer can get the 50+ features of VOIP at low cost – features like hold music, call queuing, recordings, call flow technologies, and tech designed to empower remote working. That allows competition on a level playing field with companies a thousand times bigger.
There are still aspects to landlines that appeal to customers, like options around 0345/0800 or local geographic numbers. These still offer the reassurance of stability and reliability to new and prospective customers. But being digitally provided by the likes of bOnline, they are readily available at very reasonable costs on a single digital VOIP line.
The biggest bugbear for many small businesses going digital in the past has been non-existent or third-rate support. Often, low-end hardware seems to be designed for technologists, not business owners (this author remembers using a command-line text interface to configure cheap VOIP routers only ten years ago). With bOnline, systems like VOIP and thoroughly professional websites are provided quickly and seamlessly, leaving the sole trader or business owner to concentrate on a day’s work.
There’s real human support available on the end of the line, too, despite the company’s all-digital offerings. There’s a genuine sense of humanity from bOnline’s staff that we’ve spoken to – these are the people that answer customer calls. When we talked to Karibian, we termed them “business waffle-free”. Laughing, he said:
“We’re a ‘no-waffle’ business, unlike most of our competition and legacy providers. Our online presence matches our brand values and what we call ‘bOnline DNA’ – transparent and obsessed with making things easy for our customers. Our hyper-focus on sole traders, freelancers and micro-businesses allows us to concentrate on making everything we do from product to support as clear and simple.”
While there is, without doubt, an element of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” about many micro-businesses’ communications provision, the Openreach decision to move away from analogue (albeit in four years) should be a spur to many. And with providers like bOnline that focus solely on the very small business sector, perhaps the time to get on board the all-digital train should come sooner rather than later?
We recommend getting in touch with one of those “waffle-free” representatives today. Once you’ve gone digital, you’ll wonder why you used 100-year-old copper wire “technology” for so long.