An Ofcom survey of over 1500 UK-based SMEs, determined by size, region, industry sector and urbanity, shows that the average spend per annum on communications services is £1,371, with spend strongly linked to size; micro SMEs (up to four employees) spent £1,105 on average, while medium SMEs (50 to 249 employees) spent £11,323 on average.
More than four-fifths of respondees saw communications as fundamental to their business, and levels of satisfaction were relatively high, with 82% of respondents stating that their business needs were well catered for by the communication market.
This tends to contradict claims by campaign groups such as the British Infrastructure Group and Countryside Alliance that there is widespread dissatisfaction with mobile services, particularly rural coverage - but the Ofcom survey showed that satisfaction levels with mobile, landline and broadband services have all declined since 2014, suggesting that SMEs are becoming more demanding.
The survey results, which are freely available from Ofcom, show that mobile phone users recorded 80% satisfaction with email and internet access, 78% satisfaction with value for money, 75% satisfaction with reliability of signal, and 73% satisfaction with geographical coverage - though comparable satisfaction ratings for landline and broadband services were generally a few points higher.
Key areas of dissatisfaction with mobile phone services were geographic coverage (18% dissatisfied), signal reliability (16%), and customer services (10% dissatisfied).
While 35% claimed that mobile problems had a high impact on their business, this figure was lower than that for landline or internet problems.
Use of business contracts was shown as less prevalent for mobile services than for landline or broadband; those which did not have a business contract generally believed that these do not offer any advantages over a personal contract, and/or that they are more expensive.
Seventy-eight per cent felt that their mobile services offered value for money, and 75% were satisfied with their signal/connection reliability. Eight in ten smartphone users were satisfied with the service reliability for emailing/internet access, with satisfaction with this element higher in England and Northern Ireland than in Scotland or Wales.
Significant minorities were dissatisfied with geographic coverage (18% dissatisfied), and reliability of signal/connection (16%). Twenty-two per cent of those in Wales were dissatisfied with the reliability of their signal/connection, and 25% of those in Scotland were dissatisfied with geographic coverage.
Thirty-two per cent had experienced issues or problems with their mobile services in the past 12 months; the key issue had been poor mobile coverage (20%). SMEs in remote rural locations were more likely to have had problems (42%). Among those experiencing service reliability issues, 26% said this had resulted in a complete loss of service, and 35% said it had had a high level of impact on their business.
On mobile contracts, 76% of SMEs had a fixed-term contract (rising to 83% in Wales and 88% in Scotland) and a further 9% had a rolling monthly contract. Two-thirds (64%) of SMEs were on a contract of up to two years in length.
Eighty percent claimed to be aware of the key terms and conditions of their contract, and the majority (61%) felt that these were presented in a ‘plain and intelligible’ way. Despite this, only 43% felt the terms and conditions were ‘easy to understand and free of jargon’.