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Going mobile: Should your business ditch the landline?

Thursday, 27 March 2014 | By Andrew Sadauskas

Over recent weeks, we’ve looked at some of the decisions you face as a small business owner when establishing landline telephone and fixed broadband services for your offices.


However, increasingly smartphones, tablets and laptops with 4G wireless internet cards are replacing the traditional desktop PC and phone on every desk.


One large Australian business recently decided to remove all the fixed lines at head office altogether, with its staff of 400 being switched to company-provided mobiles.


So why not do away with landline telephones altogether and go mobile only?


SmartCompany spoke to a number of leading Australian telecommunications experts to look at some of the options open to businesses ditching the landline.


The case for going mobile


For understandable reasons, one company keen to promote the idea of going mobile only is mobile carrier Vodafone.


A spokeswoman from the company told SmartCompany going mobile offers a number of advantages, including creating a single point of contact for all staff.


“There are an increasing number of small to medium businesses ditching their fixed-line connections in favour of mobile only. There’s very few businesspeople today who could operate a business without a mobile device, but there’s an increasing number of people who could easily operate without the unnecessary expense of fixed line services.


“Over the past two years, mobile revenue from small business has eclipsed fixed line revenue, as more businesses see the sense in not having to pay for two connections when they only need one.”


According to the spokeswoman, one of the key benefits of going mobile only is the reduction in upfront costs it can represent.


“In terms of start-ups, fixed communications is one of the biggest initial set-up costs. It makes no sense to pay for both a fixed and mobile connection at this stage of the business life cycle, especially in the first years when staff are unlikely to be stuck behind a desk anyway – they’ll be out making sales and marketing their products and services.”


Mobile broadband as an option outside ADSL, NBN and cable areas


One of the downsides of ADSL broadband is that it only works in a limited range of a telephone exchange. Meanwhile, other fast fixed-line technologies (such as cable broadband or the NBN) are not available in all areas. This is often especially true in rural and regional areas.


Will Irving, the group managing director of Telstra Business, told SmartCompany 4G or Next-G (HSPA) wireless broadband remains a viable option in these areas.


“For many customers who are not yet covered by NBN or cable, Telstra Wi-Fi 4G Advanced is perfect for small businesses who want high speed services to share their internet connection with up to 10 Wi-Fi enabled devices or users at once.


“What’s more, this device operates across our entire network, so if you happen to step outside a 4G coverage area (currently covering 85% of the population), it’ll automatically switch you over to Telstra’s 3G network (covering 99.3% of the population and more than twice the geographic coverage of the next largest network).”


However, Irving cautions wireless broadband prices are generally more expensive than their fixed line equivalents.


“Mobile services are more expensive than fixed line services, so getting advice on how to maximise the value of data usage is important.”


Businesses on the go


Given the additional costs, a key consideration before making the decision is what industry you’re in.


If you have a large number of staff roaming around a warehouse, travelling regularly or moving around the country in vehicles, switching away from landlines could have important business benefits. In contrast, if you have a fixed place of business, such as a shop or office, obviously those benefits are lessened.


According to iiNet general manager for government and business, Daryl Knight, fleet plans or mobile wireless hotspots might be worth looking into.


“Each business is different. There are alternatives to fixed line services, particularly if most of your staff were regularly mobile ­– on the road or remotely located.


“A mobile broadband service may also be useful for the mobile workforce. iiNet offers a selection of SIM-only solutions, which are great if you already have a broadband modem device, through to tablets and mobile Wi-Fi hotspots that support up to five additional users.


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Mobile-optimised business systems


One of the big questions about moving exclusively to mobile is how you replace enterprise-specific desktop PC apps and systems with mobile replacements.


A leader in this space is Microsoft Dynamics AX, which is a comprehensive business management platform covering accounts, retail (including online retail), operations, payroll and warehousing.


More importantly, it also allows you to develop and deploy task-specific apps for both Windows Phone and iOS to your employee smartphones, which are all powered by the same back end and data model.


SmartCompany recently spoke to Microsoft Dynamics AX general manager Christian Pedersen, who says employees interact with the platform through task specific mobile apps.


“For example, there's a lot of people who need to do approvals. But they're not really Enterprise Resource Planning users, so we just have an app for approvals. So if anything needs their approval, it just shows up in their approval app where everything comes in – it can be an expense report, a timesheet, an order.


“So as a manager, you just say 'okay, what approvals do I have to do today' and there's a list. It’s very task-orientated. So the traditional canonical system will be completely bifurcated with lots of different apps, and that's how we're seeing it. We have apps for your Windows Phone, or iOS.”


Mobile messaging


One of the downsides of going exclusively mobile is the potential costs involved.


When it comes to mobile messaging, this has led the rapid growth of non-SMS mobile messaging platforms, as recently demonstrated by the recent $US16 billion purchase of WhatsApp by Facebook.


BlackBerry Australia and New Zealand managing director Matt Ball told SmartCompany mobile messaging apps are increasingly part of the mobile communications mix for business.


“Businesses are increasingly abandoning landline phones and implementing mobile only solutions, despite growing concern from industry groups calling for action over unreasonable price hikes for sending text messages between networks.


“This has given rise to non-SMS based messaging platforms such as BlackBerry Messenger, which continue to grow in both popularity and innovation for business as a cost-effective and more secure alternative to connect and collaborate with colleagues.”


“We recently launched enterprise BBM, a highly secure mobile messaging solution that allows employees to message within the company under a regulated level of enhanced security.


“The advantage of BBM for business is that it’s accessible to all mobile phone users as a free download on all major platforms – iOS, Android and Windows phone.”


Mobile device management


One of the risks associated with a business going mobile-only is the possibility a device will be lost or stolen.


Likewise, where businesses opt for a Bring Your Own Device policy, there are the risks associated with employees carrying potentially sensitive customer information on a private device.


This is where a Mobile Device Management system comes into play.


A secure workspace app is installed on the employee’s phone or tablet, and holds all their work apps, contacts, messages and data separate from their personal apps and messages.


The system also encrypts all data between the secure workspace and the server at work.


The MDM system also allows your IT staff to wipe a disgruntled former employee’s secure workspace if they ever leave the company, and to block access from a lost or stolen device.


The leader in the Australian MDM market is BlackBerry’s BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10, which offers secure workspaces for Apple iOS and Android devices, as well as for BlackBerry 10 smartphones.


A word of caution on costs


However, before taking the plunge and going mobile only, it’s critical to take into consideration that data from mobile broadband services is generally more expensive than fixed-line broadband.


Knight points out that it might not be a suitable option for larger offices.


“While wireless broadband is suitable for occasional use, it may prove too expensive to meet the needs office of five to 10 employees. Although each business is different, managers should be wary of data usage charges with wireless broadband.”