Vodafone UK offers free broadband to small businesses

Vodafone UK upped the ante in terms of offers of free connectivity options to support businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The operator has now announced that it will provide free broadband services to small businesses throughout the whole of 2021. The offer applies to businesses with one to 50 employees and is available until February 28.

While this is understandably presented as an altruistic move to help small businesses as the UK enters another full lockdown in a further effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, businesses do have to sign up to a 36-month contract to benefit from the free offer.

That means they will be obliged to pay the standard rate of £20.83 plus VAT for the cheapest broadband plan once the free 12-month period is over.

So, while certainly a generous offer, it is also a somewhat aggressive bid by Vodafone UK to build market share in the business broadband market.

Going online en masse

Vodafone UK was clearly motivated by a new survey that reveals the degree to which small businesses are embracing online and digital ways of working to survive during the pandemic.

Enterprise Nation, which describes itself as a "a vibrant community of small businesses and business advisers," has just published research – conducted in partnership with Vodafone – that claims the percentage of small businesses running exclusively online doubled during the pandemic, from just over a quarter (27%) to more than half (55%).

The survey was carried out on November 28, 2020 when questions were sent to more than 60,000 small business leaders across the UK. Vodafone UK said the research was carried out among 918 small businesses, noting that 84% of respondents were in businesses of fewer than three people, and 59% were in their first three years of operation. Only 16% had been going for more than ten years.

Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones said 2020 "will go down as the year business went online."

"We have seen small businesses in their droves pivot to build websites, embrace social media and rely on video platforms to keep in touch with their teams," Jones said.

The research also found that 71% of respondents say they rely more than ever on broadband, 70% believe a "dedicated" business broadband line would be beneficial and 94% relied on video conferencing for work during the pandemic.

Supportive moves

Of course, Vodafone is far from the only major UK network operator that has been attempting to support consumers, schools and businesses over the recent year.

BT/EE, O2 UK, Three UK and Virgin Media have provided varying offers including bonus mobile data, free access to contact tracing apps from the National Health Service (NHS), broadband discounts, support for vulnerable families and those on welfare, free entertainment, online support for educational resources and more.

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In terms of business offers, BT launched the Small Business Support Scheme in July last year as well as a tech bursary for UK startups – a six-month free fiber, mobile and digital phone line bundle on a 24-month contract.

A BT spokesperson also pointed to a free mentoring scheme in partnership with Digital Boost that is launching in a couple of weeks and new digital marketing tools for SMEs that will be available later this year.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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