Small firms baffled by telecoms terms

Mention 3G, Wi-Fi or VoIP to the manager of a small business and you'll get a baffled look, according to a study that calls on the telecoms industry to raise its game

Telecommunications firms are failing to connect with Britain's army of small businesses, says research published by the Ofcom Consumer Panel this week.

The Panel interviewed owners and managers from 300 firms, each of between one and 10 employees in size, and found that most were baffled by the latest communications terminology. Just 16 percent were able to accurately say that 3G was a high-speed mobile technology, while 17 percent gave a wrong answer and 67 percent said they hadn't heard the term.

Wi-Fi fared even worse: just 8 percent understood that Wi-Fi was a wireless technology that provided fast Internet access at hot spots, with 7 percent giving an incorrect answer and 85 percent not able to give an answer. And awareness of voice-over-IP services was lower still, with only 3 percent defining VoIP accurately, another 3 percent giving a wrong answer, and 95 percent admitting total ignorance.

In contrast, broadband appears to be much better understood, especially by the larger businesses sampled. Sixty-eight percent could define it, and another 22 percent had heard of the term.

The findings of the panel — an independent body set up to defend the interests of individuals and small businesses — indicate that telecoms operators have a lot more work to do to persuade potential customers to come on board.

"We think the industry is not communicating properly with small businesses," said a Consumer Panel spokeswoman. She added that a workshop will be held next month to teach telecommunications companies to work better with the SME sector.

3G operators, having invested billions of pounds in licences and equipment, appear to be facing the greatest challenge. The panel also interviewed consumers, and found that the majority of them didn't know what 3G was either.