A Practical Guide to IT, Telecoms & Connectivity for Small Businesses

Guide to IT Tech Telecoms Broadband for new small business

Virtually every business now relies on technology to trade successfully so need to invest in the right technology. For large businesses, this is rarely an issue, but for early stage and small businesses, these can be big decisions and the wrong ones can cause real problems. This guide aims to help you make the right decisions when it comes to IT and telecoms.

IT Hardware

The absolute minimum for any business is a computer for each member of staff. What you provide will primarily depend on two factors:

  • Each persons’ role within the business
  • The level of mobility involved within that role

Role

Mobility requirements

Suggested hardware

CEO/Director/Owner Highly mobile Laptop/mobile/deskphone
Designer Mostly office-based iMac
Designer Mobile Macbook Pro & iPhone
Consultant Highly Mobile Laptop/mobile/powerbank
Office Manager Mostly office-based PC & deskphone
Business Development Highly mobile Laptop/mobile/powerbank

This table is only a rough guide. The specification of each device will depend on the specific needs:

  • A designer working on highly detailed files, such as, architectural drawings or large video files, will need a powerful machine: lots of memory, big graphics card etc.
  • The laptop for the business development manager is most likely only going to be used for Microsoft Office documents and PDFs so needs a lower specification. However, it needs to be light as it is being carried around all day, every day.

Desktops vs. Laptops

Sales of laptops have outstripped desktops for more than ten years now, with tablet sales outstripping them both from 2013 to 2018[i]. With the advent of 2 in 1 laptops such as the Microsoft Surface and Lenovo Yoga, the attractiveness of tablets has dipped.

There are still a number of reasons for giving a member of your team a desktop instead of a laptop:

  • If they never work outside the office, there is no need for a laptop.
  • Laptops are always more expensive than the desktop equivalent.
  • The specification on desktops is higher, simply because there is more room in the device.

One final point on the hardware: don’t skimp. A slow machine, whether laptop or desktop, will cost much more in the long-term, due to slower productivity, than you will save by skimping on the specification.

Powerbanks

Powerbanks are vital devices if you, or your team, spend hours out of the office, with unpredictable access to power. They are able to charge both your phone and your laptop (depending on specification), although they can be heavy.

If you do find yourself flying regularly, check the specification as some airlines do not allow the bigger devices.

Deskphones

There are a number of schools of thought around the use of phones, particularly around whether deskphones and landline numbers are worthwhile.

A landline still demonstrates a level of business maturity above just displaying a mobile number within your marketing. It says there is more than one person within the business (even if there isn’t). It suggests you have a permanent office (even if you don’t) and so is worth the investment.

With basic VoIP solutions costing as little as £3.99 per month, the layout is minimal. VoIP handsets can be bought for as little as £25 per handset, although the specification will be low.

If you do want a landline number, but find that you are always out and about, you have a number of options available for you.

  • Call answering services, such as answer.co.uk, provide PAYG solutions from £1 per call.
  • Routing landline calls to your mobile can be done by most VoIP providers. Some charge an additional license for this, but not everyone.
  • Add a softphone app to your laptop. Calls can then easily be made, with a headset plugged in so you aren’t disturbing others around you.

Mobiles

Your mobile is your constant companion. It is rarely out of arm’s reach. We rely on them because of their convenience and simplicity. However, there are a number of things to consider when looking at phones for your business.

Company vs. BYOD

When you start adding staff to the team, particularly if they need to be mobile, you need to consider whether you want to them to use a company phone or you are happy for them to use their own phone. There are a number of things to consider:

1. Expense Claims

It is only fair that your company pays for calls and data used by your team as they do their job. Depending on the volume of calls and the amount of data they use, you need to decide which choice makes financial sense for the business.

2. Number of phones

Most people don’t like having to carry two phones around. How strict are you going to be about your staff making personal calls on your company phones? There are applications now on the market that allow you to, effectively, split the phone. A single phone can have two numbers, two sets of contacts and two data storage areas.

3. Security

Phones are a growing security risk, as we do more with them. They are normally connected to your network so your staff can access email and documents when on the move, so malware, ransomware and viruses can get to your network via your phone. Endpoint protection is something to seriously consider to protect your network.

4. Data loss

Your phone, whether a company or BYOD device, will have significant company data on it. If the phone is lost, compromised or that person leaves the business, you run the risk of a data breach and all the GDPR implications that carries.

Contracts

If you decide to issue company phones, be careful with your contracts…

Adding devices

Standard practice as you add a new phone for a new team member is to extend your contract. This may not be the best solution for your business.

Calls & Data

Contracts allowing unlimited calls and data sound good in theory as there is no risk of additional charges, but you pay for the privilege. Look at your call and data volumes as you could save significant amounts by having a contract with limited volumes. These can be pooled, so high users and low users balance each other out.

Hardware costs

Standard practice is to spread the hardware cost across the contract term, but you may be better off either getting a SIM only contract and buying your own phones, or getting the mobile provider to “give” you the hardware pot to then buy your own phones. You can often make significant savings on the prices they are offering.

Connectivity

Emails, websites, e-commerce, apps, IMs and a multitude of other online functions dominate our working lives. Without connectivity, there are few businesses that can trade effectively. So, what are your options?

4/5G

If the promises made by the 5G operators are delivered, the need for anything more will dwindle dramatically, as huge amounts of data will be quickly and easily distributed. 5G is already available in six cities across the country, with a further 10 being rolled out by EE this year.

If you’re not in one of those areas, 4G could be a suitable alternative. If you are a really low data user (less than 100Gb per month), or you only want it for when you are out of the office, this is a great way to securely get the connectivity you need. It is certainly far more secure than using public WiFi solutions – and often faster.

DSL

Copper-based internet connectivity is rapidly being replaced by fibre across the country, but not everywhere. Fibre also carries a price premium, but if you aren’t using the Cloud very much, a DSL connection may be suitable for businesses up to 5 people.

Fibre Broadband

Approximately 91% of UK premises[ii] have access to fibre broadband (homes and businesses). With companies like Zen offering speeds of up to 300Mbps, fibre is the preferred choice for many small businesses, particularly if you are a heavy internet user.

Speeds to the user will drop if you are using WiFi within your office. This can be as much as 50% and will depend on a number of factors, including the WiFi router, its positioning and your location.

If you are based in a serviced office or co-working space, the WiFi is almost certainly included in your monthly service charge, but a wired connection may not be.

If you are a heavy internet user, it may make sense to pay the extra for a wired connection. If you have a rural-based business, it may be beneficial for you to find a local co-working space and become a member.

The cost of getting high speed internet to your normal workplace is likely to be higher than the membership costs at the co-working space. You also then get to network with other local businesses and, maybe, pick up some new clients.

Technology for small businesses can be complicated. If are you unsure about the best solution for your business, talk to an expert or two. Hopefully this guide has given you some assistance and will help you make the first steps in the right direction.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Mike Ianiri, Director of independent telecoms brokerage Equinox. Mike works with companies, charities and other organisations to help them choose the right telecoms packages for their needs and thereby reduce their costs. He is particularly knowledgeable on the integration of IT and telecoms in business.

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[i] https://www.statista.com/statistics/272595/global-shipments-forecast-for-tablets-laptops-and-desktop-pcs/

[ii] Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) rather than Fibre to the Premise(FTTP)

 

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