Time to Get Smart About SMB Services
A report published today highlights how small businesses -- in this instance, in the UK -- feel they are being short-changed in the broadband economy, either because they are not being offered decent connectivity, or they're being offered services that, when available, are often too expensive. (See Small UK Firms Left Stranded by ISPs Report.)
The report was mostly negative about the services on offer, the pricing, the attitude of ISPs, the state of Government financial support, and so on. And that's not so surprising, given that the report was published by the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB), with all its vested interests.
But the FSB, in its detailed, 52-page report does make a decent case in many respects, especially when it comes to the dire way in which the UK government has handled broadband initiatives and funding: The UK government pays a lot of lip service to the digital economy, but often (as is the case with many governments and political parties) fails to show any true understanding of how global economic operations need to be supported or what the real needs of businesses and individuals are in the modern world.
But while some things are unlikely to change -- politicians will no doubt continue to be largely clueless about anything that doesn't directly affect them -- the capabilities of communications service providers have changed. For as long as I can recall, small businesses have felt they are not catered for by fixed and mobile operators and the local communications specialists that sell them services packages. Often that was because of the technical and operational limitations of the service providers, restricted to costly fiber rollouts and/or low-bandwidth wireless delivery platforms for the delivery of uninspiring and restrictive services packages.
But times have changed, haven't they? Fixed and wireless broadband (4G LTE, WiFi and even satellite) services are now more pervasive, the ability to sweat the installed copper tails of the fixed-line networks is now greatly enhanced by VDSL2 and new emerging standards such as G.fast, and there are many business-oriented applications that can be enabled across a vanilla broadband connection, while tiered packages of unified communications and cloud services are now more easily provisioned for all types of customers, including even the smallest of businesses. Right? RIGHT?!
In the UK, the small business market has long been the preserve of national operator BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA): The arrival of 4G and the increasing availability of mobile-enabled data services provides a much greater opportunity for the mobile operators to launch a real challenge to the incumbent, and certainly EE , Telefσnica UK Ltd. (O2), and Vodafone UK have all been making moves targeting the SMB sector lately.
The FSB report suggests that such moves will take time to make any impact, if they move the needle at all -- this isn't the first time that service providers have boasted of new, resource-heavy assaults on the SMB market. But there is still real market potential: Delivering a decent broadband connection to a remote, rural business is undoubtedly going to be a real challenge for any service provider for a long time to come, but it seems there are plenty of small businesses in urban and semi-urban areas (according to the FSB report) that are still underserved, and that's where much of the 4G LTE rollouts are focused.
In addition, the emergence of 4G is coinciding with the interest in the Internet of Things (IoT) and the potential for urban authorities to enhance their business communities by launching 'smart city' initiatives, which need broadband infrastructure as the underpinning infrastructure.
In a services industry that is constantly searching for new revenue streams, one of the oldest and potentially largest markets -- delivering tiered communications services to small and medium-sized businesses -- still looks ripe for the picking. The FSB report is all about the UK market, but this just highlights the potential that exists in many developed markets, all of which show the same trends of pressurized incumbents, enhanced, mobile broadband, growing cloud service availability, and a disgruntled business customer base.
It's time for the communications service providers to get smart too and make big money from the small business market.
Ray Le Maistre, , Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading