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How businesses are riding consumer take-up

Increasingly the trends highlighted in the annual Ofcom market reports show technology adoption rates of consumers outstripping that of businesses for leading-edge services such as voice-over-IP, super-fast broadband, smartphones and virtual reality. The pace of change in the consumer market is increasing as the rate of take-up of products such as Vive and Oculus make VR not only available, but also capable of delivering the full VR experience at a realistic cost. 

This is a big contrast to the world of business, where SMEs have less access to superfast broadband (80%) than the market as a whole (89%), and where immersive technologies such as Telepresence are no more pervasive today than when first demonstrated a decade ago. Consumers leading technology innovation is not a recent phenomenon – it is ten years since two landmarks for the technology industry: the launch of the iPhone and data overtaking voice traffic on T-Mobile’s UK network.

This two-speed adoption model is driven in part by service providers offering triple and quad play bundles of phone, broadband, TV and mobile in a bid to increase average revenue per user. The collateral impact of this consumer focus has been that there has been a corresponding lack of focus on business users’ needs. Consumer services such as Skype and broadband are available to businesses on similar terms as the residential equivalents, and increasingly these consumer-grade offerings are being taken up by businesses. If communications are important to your business this creates a tension between the enhanced SLAs expected for business-critical connections and the consumer ‘best endeavours’ style SLA.

Despite this, the net effect is that many businesses are finding it cheaper to dual-source consumer-grade offerings for resilience rather than a single business grade service. Many people get confused between residential broadband and business broadband as the difference is sometimes difficult to identify, however, a business grade service would offer an SLA with a four-hour fix rather than a response within two business days. Business-grade services also offer:

  • Symmetrical data paths – same speed for upload and download
  • Dedicated end-to-end connection – not contended and not affected by other users.

The lack of a suitable service wrap for a consumer-grade service means that resellers and aggregators are increasingly bridging the gap by applying a business-grade service wrap and resilience to consumer services. By using a mix of technology and carriers the aggregator is able to offer benefits by providing a resilient service, backed by an SLA with realistic fix targets, combined with a single UK-based point of contact for sales and service. 

As the business market mixes and matches technologies such as 3G/4G as a back-up for consumer-grade broadband connections, organisations are enjoying the best of both worlds – lowest possible monthly costs for better margin whilst also providing the 24/7 availability needed for business continuity. 

As VR is adopted by gamers and the price of the technology comes down to what people already spend on HD Bluetooth headsets, we can expect to see business applications extend into VR – delivering immersive training and meetings to replace video and desk-sharing. In the next two years I like to think that we could see the re-birth of the humble flip-chart in a business user-friendly VR environment, making VR calls as interactive as face-to-face meetings for the same cost as today’s conference call. 

Rather than bemoan the focus on consumer technology we should embrace the benefits and ride the opportunities offered, from low cost high-speed connections through to improved interaction and collaboration, wherever you may be.