Buyer's guide to business mobile phones and services

by Crucible Multimedia

A mobile phone service usually comes as a package, made up of the handset(s) and access to a network. There are five mainstream mobile phone networks in the UK - O2, T-Mobile, Orange, Vodafone and most recently "3". All now have a growing third generation broadband network which can support mobile broadband Internet connectivity, mobile video and other high volume data applications. Other operators such as Virgin and BT Mobile use the 5 main networks and there are many airtime resellers dealing with one or all the networks. They offer two ways of using their services; by "pay as you go" or by monthly rental. If you do not intend to make a great number of calls from a mobile phone a pay as you go package may suffice, but any reasonably regular use (especially during business hours) probably warrants a monthly package - which package will depend on the volume of calls you anticipate making.

Pay as you go

With pay as you go you make one payment up front for the phone and the line, and then buy vouchers or credit your account as needed to make calls. Pay as you go packages are useful if you only expect to use your mobile occasionally, and are cost effective if you expect to receive a lot of calls, but not to make many. But bear in mind that some companies set an expiry date on their credits, meaning that the credit must be used in the time allocated or you lose it - and maybe the ability to make or recieve calls until you credit your account again.

Line rental

With rental you pay a monthly fee, in much the same way as you would for a fixed telephone line. Many monthly rental packages include some inclusive call minutes or "talktime" (usually calls to fixed lines or to mobiles on the same network but may include "cross-network"). You also need to pay for the phone, although the cost of these is heavily subsidised and some basic models are given away "free" as part of a package. On business tarrifs minutes can be shared and may include free calls to company mobiles and landlines. Since Oftel funding for TelecomsAdvice ceased when it merged into Ofcom, our commercial division has started providing a mobile telecoms bill analysis and brokerage service for business direct with all the major networks.

Monthly line rental costs from around GBP7, with a wide range of call-plans available. Look at several to work out which is best for your business, significant savings can be made by selecting the right network and tariff. Spending more on your monthly call-plan will result in more inclusive minutes (calls that are included in the set monthly charge), and calls made with inclusive minutes are much cheaper then calls made outside of the call-plan. For the intensive user (say 60 minutes or more on the phone every day) or several or perhaps hundreds of company users sharing minutes, monthly plans are available that run into thousands of pounds but which are far more economical than reimbursing private handset use.

Equipment costs

A mobile phone can be included "free" when bought as part of a subsidised package, but without the subsidy even a basic model would cost at least GBP70, and you could pay GBP300 and more for the latest models with WAP access, GPRS/3G and Bluetooth or other mobile data features. Expect to pay more for the handset with a pay as you go package because you are also getting a line but without a monthly rental charge and minimum contract. If you break your contract or reduce the rental package you may have to pay the cost of the originally subsidised handsets.

Call costs

Call charges vary greatly and are affected by a number of factors, including the time of day and the finer points of your call-plan. Most operators run on peak time (7am to 7pm weekdays) and off-peak, with call charges usually lower off-peak. Some companies offer free or capped cost calls at evenings and weekends.

Calls tend to be cheaper if you have signed up for a monthly call-plan rather than a pay as you go package. Monthly call-plans can be based on anything from intensive business use (multiple daytime calls) to infrequent social use (occasional off peak calls), and the more you pay the more inclusive minutes you will get, plus cheaper call rates for any calls made outside of your inclusive allowance.

Prices and offers are changing all the time and the best deals tend to be for new subscribers so it is worth considering changing networks and porting your existing numbers. Since Oftel funding for TelecomsAdvice ceased when it merged into Ofcom our commercial division has started providing a mobile telecoms bill analysis and brokerage service for business direct with all the major networks.

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, and you should gather as much information as possible on quality of service, additional services offered such as roaming agreements, and terms and conditions before signing up with a supplier. With this information you can then make an informed decision on the best supplier for you.

Before incorporation into Ofcom, Oftel published a mobile network operators' survey giving information on call success rates on each of the mobile phone networks, with results provided nationally and on a regional basis.

Mobile Phone Network Coverage

Direct links to the mobile companies' coverage check pages: Orange Coverage Check
O2 Coverage Check
Vodafone Coverage Check
T-Mobile Coverage Check
Three Coverage Check

Note: All above prices aim to give an idea of what you can expect to pay. The cost of these services is changing rapidly and is very competitive so ask several potential suppliers to provide a cost comparison based on your existing or proposed usage.

Reviewed January 2011

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last updated : 21/01/2011

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