A starter pack for businesses

31 October 2015

Starting or running a business can be a daunting task, and when it comes to communications it’s important to understand the basics in order to help you get your business off the ground.

Not everyone can be an expert on connectivity and communications products, so this starter pack, which is aimed at smaller businesses with ten employees or fewer, will help you gain some initial understanding.

To find out more, click the links below.

Depending on the kind of business you are, before you start you are going to need to plan how customers can contact and connect with you. Do you want to take calls? Do you need a website, an email address, or online order facilities?

You’ll need to sort out a contract with a provider before you get going, so make sure you allow sufficient time to set this up.

Remember: Not all providers will allow you to use a residential tariff for business purposes. This also applies to mobile contracts, so check carefully before you buy.

Discover the benefits of business services via our choosing a service page and in our infographic guide.

Business fixed voice

If you want to be contacted, it can often be best to have a landline (or local rate or Freephone) number, as it keeps the costs down for the customers who contact you.

A fixed line is a wired connection between your business premises and the nearest exchange, via a street cabinet. The most common example is your standard phone line (landline).

Business mobile

Business mobile phones function in exactly the same way as residential mobile phones. However there can be advantages in business mobile pricing and tariffs, and they may come with additional support as part of a contract.

Mobiles phones are likely to be particularly important to your business if you don’t have a fixed office, or you need to stay in contact on the move. Some providers offer facilities which allow you to pick up calls from your office phone on your mobile (and vice versa), and provide a local landline number for your mobile.

To help keep you and your employees connected on the move, Ofcom’s interactive tool allows you to discover the quality of EE’s O2’s Three’s and Vodafone’s mobile coverage for any postcode in the UK at the click of a mouse.

You can check:

  • Voice and data coverage by mobile operator;
  • coverage inside and outside buildings; and
  • topographical information allowing users to identify areas where there are natural obstructions to coverage, such as valleys and hills.

This tool can help you compare providers before you commit to a contract and choose a provider that best meets the needs of your business.

You'll also find mobile coverage information on provider websites, and further advice on maximising mobile coverage in Ofcom’s dedicated guide.

Broadband is a way of connecting to the internet. It allows information to be carried at high speed to your personal computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, smart TV or other web-enabled device.

Broadband technology is the same for residential users and for businesses; however you may not always be allowed to use a residential package for business activity.

What are the different types of broadband?

ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) is the most commonly available type of broadband, delivered through the copper wires of your phone line. It’s usually capable of up to 24Mbit/s

Speeds will vary depending on how far you are from your nearest telephone exchange, so if the package contains an ‘up to’ speed, you may not get as fast a speed as is advertised. Remember to ask the provider for a speed check to get an indication of what the line to your premises is capable of.

Cable broadband uses fibre optic and coaxial cables to deliver superfast broadband services, as well as TV and phone services, direct to homes.

Unlike with ADSL, speeds tend not to degrade with distance. Cable technology can deliver very fast broadband speeds and the fastest cable broadband packages offer speeds of ‘up to' 200Mbit/s.

Fibre broadband is delivered via clusters of fibre optic cables, and has faster speeds than ADSL. There are two types of superfast fibre broadband; ‘fibre-to-the-cabinet' (FTTC) and ‘fibre-to-the-premises' (FTTP).

FTTC has fibre optic cables between the exchange and the street cabinet, and then copper into your business premises. It’s usually capable of up to 76Mbit/s, but speeds can still degrade over long distances. FTTP has fibre optic cables right into your premises, and is therefore faster, usually capable of up to 1Gbit/s (1,000Mbit/s).

Should I get superfast or ADSL broadband for my business?

Superfast fibre and cable broadband offers significantly faster speeds than ADSL services, but they generally cost a little more. If you are a small business with minimal internet usage, then ADSL may be sufficient for your needs.

The need for superfast will depend on what kind of business you are, and what you want to do with your connection and communications services. See our box on the right for an explanation of usage requirements.

Your needs may also require different types of voice and data connections, and you can find out the benefits of business communications in our guide, and in our jargon buster.

Connectivity is constantly improving in the UK, but for some businesses, for example those located in rural areas, there may still be limitations on the business services and products that are available.

Most premises in the UK can get ADSL broadband over the Openreach operated copper network (and from KCOM in Kingston upon Hull)

Cable broadband, supplied over the Virgin Media network, is available to around a third of UK SME premises, and around half of overall premises (2014 figures) but is more likely to be available in urban locations.

Superfast services (cable and fibre) are being extended to an ever-increasing number of business premises; you can use the resources on our choosing a service and provider page to find out if you can get them.

Whether you’re a business setting up new premises or looking to relocate, Ofcom’s interactive tool allows you to check the availability of standard and superfast broadband services in a particular area by simply entering a postcode.

Similarly, if you’re looking to upgrade your business's current broadband package, you can check whether faster services are locally available.

If you or your employees travel regularly and need to access the internet or send emails on the move, the tool also shows 3G and 4G mobile broadband coverage for any postcode in the UK – see ‘Business Mobile’ above.

Almost 1.7 million organisations and businesses do not use the internet and do not have any web or social media presence, according to Lloyd’s Bank’s Digital Index 2014.

If this seems true for your business, or you don’t feel confident using digital communications services, don’t worry, there are a wide variety of places to gain help, both offline and online - some of these are listed in our help and advice section.

They can be contacted using a range of methods and some, for example the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Chambers of Commerce, have offices all over the UK.

A good place to start learning about digital communications is at the Doteveryone (previously Go ON UK) website. Its Digital Skills webpage offers useful resources, guidance and advice, including information on how to use communications services.

It’s also important that business users are able to make use of communications services in a secure way, particularly if you are making or allowing your customers to make financial transactions online. You can find out more about online protection through the GetSafeOnline business pages, and the Cyber Aware website.