BT has seen its fixed-line base erode steadily over the past few years, while tariffs have fallen, making it hard for it to increase revenue. But it looks like BT is grabbing the nettle rather than shying away from it.
That means sniffing around for new market opportunities in a rapidly changing technological landscape. And in the case of BT, instigating the first Internet phone service specifically for UK SMEs, and launching next year the Bluephone, which will allow you to make VoIP, mobile or landline calls from the same handset.
Small businesses across the UK now have access to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), with the launch of BT Business Broadband Voice. Subscribers simply plug BT’s Broadband Voice box into their high-speed Internet connection and then use a standard telephone handset to make calls, rather than having to connect via a computer. This means that Internet calls can be made from anywhere that has a broadband connection, enabling employees to keep the same number, whether they’re working from the office or remotely.
It can’t be easy for a lumbering giant having nimble little gnat-like competitors such as Carphone Warehouse and Centrica’s OneTel snapping at it haunches, especially if you lost about half a million fixed-line customers during the July-to-September quarter to some of those competitors. Only last week, Ofcom said that Carphone Warehouse and Centrica’s OneTel, had expanded their customer base to 4.2 million at the end of September from 3.7 million at the end of June.
BT’s proposed Bluephone acts like a mobile, but it has better reception, better voice quality and is cheaper to use than a mobile, because it operates over BTs fixed line network. When you use it near your home or office, the call is routed using your landline connection, if you are out and about it will use the mobile network, and if you are within a Wi-Fi hotspot it will automatically use VoIP to route the call.
Ofcom reported the number of UK broadband connections passed the 5 million point during September, with around 50,000 new subscriptions added every week. So, while fixed voice telecoms use continues to decline slowly, broadband uptake continues apace, which might start to mean more of a shift rather than a loss in business for telcos who grasp the nettle.