Ignorance is bliss in telecoms torpor

We can't blame small businesses and sole traders for being clueless about the latest telecommunications terms - operators aren't giving them good reasons to take an interest

The Ofcom Consumer Panel has spoken. Britain's smallest businesses are all at sea over the latest telecoms innovations, with terms like 3G, Wi-Fi or VoIP whistling by faster than Del Boy and Rodney running from a tax inspector.

This isn't too surprising — the tiddlers of the business pond generally come late to most new technologies. ZDNet UK's own IT Priorities research has just found that larger businesses are now planning to spend big bucks on Wi-Fi, mobility and, to a slightly lesser extent 3G, as they chase productivity gains and a competitive advantage, indicating that the bigger players know the score.

But high-speed wireless and mobile connectivity can and should be just as valuable to the smallest small business player — and the Panel's work reinforces the point that many telecoms firms are making a pig's ear of driving interest in what should be compelling technologies.

3G got a particular pasting — with few recognising the term.

OK, people don't care what a technology is called; they care about what it does — but that's part of the problem. 3G datacards should be an essential accessory for a tech-aware small business that wants to liberate the sales staff from having to be in the office to access the company computer systems. But right now, with operators charging around £75 a month for a service that's still needs refining — check out the disgruntled early adopters in our reader ratings — you may be better off not knowing what a third-generation mobile service is.

The same goes for Wi-Fi — BT Openzone can keep charging an eye-watering £6 for one hour of access at one of its hot spots, and sensible mobile workers will keep looking out for Internet cafés where they can get online for a quid — without having to provide their own hardware.

The one bright light amid the Panel's gloomy findings was that broadband is well-understood. People realise what high-speed Internet access is because they know how valuable that can be, especially when it comes at a price they can stomach. Only a fool could fail to make the connection.