Fixed landline business telecommunications services
A "fixed line" telephone, also known as a landline, is a standard telephone used over the "wired" telephone network.
How do I choose a service provider?
The public telephone network was operated by British Telecom
1984, when the industry was opened up to competition. The market is
made up of a multitude of operators (or telcos), split into network
providers, which supply services direct to the premises, and service
providers or "billing only" telcos, which use the infrastructure
supplied by network providers.
BT is still the biggest network provider, but alternative providers, including cable TV companies, have entered the market in several parts of the UK, including AT&T, Cable & Wireless (formerly Mercury), NTL and Telewest (now merged under the Virgin Media banner).
If you have a BT line, you may choose a different service provider to carry the calls themselves, regardless of where your business is based. These 'billing only' services can be accessed in two ways -
- indirect access - indirect access operators use BT's infrastructure from a customer's premises to the exchange to provide their own services. Services from these providers are accessed by dialling a prefix number or by routing through a box, which automatically dials the prefix. Some companies, such as First Telecom and One.Tel, specialise in indirect access, while the cable companies offer indirect access services in areas where they don't have their own infrastructure.
- carrier pre-selection (CPS) - with CPS there is no need to dial a prefix or use an adaptor, as calls are carried by a company selected in advance. CPS has been in operation since December 2000, and most indirect access operators are expected to offer it in the future.
- Local Loop Unbundling - where a carrier has its own equipment in the local BT exchange and a trunk line to its own network
There are many operators to choose from. Since Oftel funding for TelecomsAdvice ceased when it merged into Ofcom our commercial division has started providing a telecoms bill analysis and brokerage service for business, using several selected telcos chosen for their consistently good Quality of Service performance in Ofcom surveys, competitive pricing and overall value for money. For a more complete list see our own ICT Directory or visit Magenta System's collection of telecoms links. We have also put together a list of websites that aim to help you determine if a particular operator or service is available in your area - see how to find out where telecoms services are available.
How much will it all cost?
Costs for fixed line telephones are made up of the cost of the telephone equipment and maintenance, line rental and call charges.
The telephone itself can cost as little as GBP10 for a basic model, to over GBP100 for a cordless phone or a combined telephone and answer machine. If you have more than one external line or several extensions you may need a PBX (private branch exchange) at a cost of GBP200 and upwards depending on the number of lines, extensions and features.
Line rental charges for business customers can cost up to GBP45 per quarter per line, depending on location and the number of lines. Installing a new line can cost around GBP115, but if your business is located in a very remote area the cost of connection may be substantially more than this.
Call charges vary greatly; most telecoms companies (telcos) offer a range of discount packages depending on value of annual business and contract commitment. Remember, you don't have to make calls using the same company who actually supplies the line; you can also use an indirect operator who may market their services through a network of resellers.
- local rate calls): cost from 1p to 3p per minute at peak times, 1p to 2p off peak (calls to 0845 numbers are supposed to be at local rate but discounts and inclusive tariffs have created differences)
- national rate calls: peak 2.5p to 7p, off-peak 1p to 2p (calls to 0870 numbers are supposed to be at national rate but, as above, discounts and inclusive tariffs have created differences)
- calls to mobile phones: peak 15p to 30p, off-peak 7p - 15p
- international calls: costs depend on the destination country and the time of day; calls from the UK to other European Union states and the USA use high capacity links, meaning that peak rate calls to the USA can be as little as 3p per minute. Calls to countries without these links to the UK, and where there is generally less volume of traffic, are often more expensive; calls to India can cost up to GBP1.20 per minute during peak times. However resellers offer low cost calls to many destinations - some charge less than 19p per minute for calls to India.
- When comparing tariffs remember to consider the effect of minimum call charges and per second or incremental billing.
Comparing call costs
With such a wide range of providers and packages on offer, it is not surprising that a number of independent tariff information sources have been put together to help you make comparisons, including -
- Since Oftel funding for TelecomsAdvice ceased when it merged into Ofcom our commercial division has started providing a telecoms bill analysis and brokerage service for business, using several selected telcos chosen for their consistently good Quality of Service performance in Ofcom surveys, competitive pricing and overall value for money.
- Comparing phone bills Ofcom runs a scheme which grants accreditation to certain sites once they're satisfied they provide consumers with the best information.
- UK Telecom Tariff Comparisons - compares 116 UK operators, contributed by telcos and consumers. End user business membership costs from GBP72 per year (+ VAT).
- uSwitch.com provides business and residential bill comparisons.
Remember that line rental and call charges are not the only indicators of the size of your final bill - most providers offer a range of discount packages that may allow you to make further savings. The cable companies may offer a good value all-inclusive TV and telephone package.
Comparing quality of service
Quality of service is an important issue when choosing a telecoms supplier, especially for businesses, where reliable communications are essential. There are a number of factors to bear in mind in addition to costs. For example, cheaper calls often use compression techniques (essentially transmitting multiple calls over bandwidth normally used for one call), or voice over Internet, which can result in a notable reduction in quality. If the quality of the phone call is very important (perhaps language differences with international customers or suppliers mean clarity is vital) then make sure you get the right balance between cheap calls and quality of service.
Comparable Performance Indicators (CPIs) have been withdrawn - the closest we can find is Ofcom's annual reports on consumer experience of the fixed and mobile, internet and digital broadcasting markets.
Note: All above prices are inclusive of VAT where not indicated otherwise. These are suggested prices that aim to give an idea of what you can expect to pay. The cost of many of these services is changing rapidly, so you should check with potential suppliers for the latest prices before signing up for new services.
Reviewed January 2011
last updated : 21/01/2011
See also our UK ICT Directory for supplier lists and links
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