Traditional phone carriers and cable operators have evolved into technology partners for companies of all sizes, many of them offering the most sophisticated services on the planet. Today, this improved access to affordable world-class technology services means you don't need to be a big business to operate like one.
In this guide, we'll compare the services each of these communications companies offer small and medium-size businesses and how these services can benefit your business, even if you're a solo practitioner. Although there are dozens of regional and local players that provide some of these services, we've focused on eight companies that operate nationally in 25 or more states: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Vonage, Century Link, Comcast, Spectrum and Frontier.
Below is a chart of business services offered by each of the companies we looked at. Read on to learn more about the services they offer, and how they could benefit your business.
Business Services Offered by Phone Carriers
|Cloud Services (infrastructure)||X||X||X||X||X||X||X||X|
|Workforce Management Apps||X||X||X||X||X||X|
|Web Hosting & Design Support||X||X||X||X||X|
Sources: Company websites, accessed Nov. 2016. Offerings subject to company changes.
*Wireless services through Verizon
**Television services through DirectTV
***Uncertain if these services are offered to small and medium-sized businesses
What are these services and how do they benefit businesses?
1. Voice — Landline
A landline refers to a phone that uses a copper wire or fiber-optic line for transmission as opposed to a mobile cellular line, which uses radio waves for transmission. Landlines are usually hard-wired, in fixed locations. Old copper-networked landlines are being replaced gradually by more efficient broadband and fiber-connected landlines, and there's a growing reliance on mobile networks for business voice communications. Still, there's demand for business landlines that need rock-solid voice connections. Landlines deliver reliable, rock-solid, crystal- clear voice connections and quality and privacy, and are the backbone of reliable premise security systems.
What problems does this service address? Resolves dropped calls and inconsistent voice and connection quality sometimes experienced with mobile or VoIP.
Who needs this service? Ideal for health care, law, media and voice recording, and businesses without high-speed internet access required for VoIP.
Why do they need it? To improve productivity, security and privacy.
2. Voice — Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
Rather than cooper wires typically used for landlines, VoIP phone systems use the same internet connection the business already uses to connect to the internet. VoIP systems provide all the bells and whistles of a traditional business phone system, such as automated attendants, voice mail, call queues and computer integration, which can distribute voice-mail messages to email inboxes. They're easy to configure and are significantly less expensive than traditional landlines. However, VoIP quality is only as good as your internet connection. If you're in an area where internet service is spotty or of inconsistent quality, VoIP might not be a good option.
What problems does this service address? Cost and flexibility.
Who needs this service? It's ideal for businesses who want all the functionality and features of a sophisticated phone system at a lower cost and to provide remote workers access to the company phone system.
Why do they need it? To reduce costs and improve productivity and functionality.
3. Business Fiber
Fiber is the fastest internet connectivity available. (Note: Fiber's not available everywhere, so be sure to ask providers about availability in your area.) Organizations in relatively large spaces benefit from strong signal strength that doesn't degrade as the user moves away from the telecommunications switch or router, which happens with broadband internet using DSL or Ethernet over copper. Unlike copper transmission lines and cables, fiber is unaffected by inclement weather and is resistant to electrical interference.
What problems does this service address? Connectivity delays, inconsistent connections, need for greater bandwidth and more.
Who needs this service? Ideal for companies with a high need for data transmission, companies with multiple locations and centralized databases, companies whose video and data demands fluctuate and companies with high demands for video conferencing. Examples: real estate, construction and 3D modeling and design.
Why do they need it? To improve productivity, reduce downtime and improve cost efficiencies.
4. High-Speed Internet
Over the years, "high-speed internet" has had many definitions. Technically speaking, high-speed internet is broadband with a minimum speed of 512 kilobits per second, which means that the only internet service available that isn't "high speed" is dial-up. With the exception of fiber-optic service (see No. 3 above), high-speed internet service is delivered via copper lines regardless of the service provider.
What problems does this service address? Connectivity issues and slow speeds.
Who needs this service Today, every business needs reliable internet service that delivers high speeds — the faster the better! But consider how you operate online before paying extra fees for faster speeds.
Why do they need it? To increase productivity, improve data speed and reduce downtime.
Choosing an internet provider might feel overwhelming, but InternetProviders.com promises to help small businesses find business providers in their area. It might be worth trying them out.
In today's business world, wireless data communication is considered crucial for day-to-day work, and that's especially true when it comes to field service, industrial maintenance and retail. Wireless drives mobility solutions that improve operating efficiencies, cost effectiveness and competitiveness.
What problems does this service address? Challenges in field service, industrial maintenance and general communications, among others.
Who needs this service? Wireless as part of a mobility solution is ideal for companies with remote workers, field service workers, retail and hospitality point of purchase and many others.
Why do they need it? To reduce costs, increase transaction speed and improve productivity, accuracy and operational efficiencies.
6. Wireless BYOD/EMM/MDM
Mobile Device Management (MDM) helps companies secure data, email and documents on wireless devices and ensure that the use of smartphones, laptops, tablets and handheld mobile devices are in compliance with corporate policies.
The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon, where employees bring their own wireless devices for personal use and to access business applications and company data, brought along with it some significant challenges, including increased concerns about data security. Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) works with employee- and company-owned devices to prevent unauthorized access to a company's applications and data on mobile devices.
What problems do these services address? Protection against data security, cyberattacks and malware via mobile devices.
Who needs these services? Companies with mobile devices, either owned or BYOD.
Why do they need it? To mitigate risks, prevent data loss and cyberattacks that could impact business operations, and avoid the significant costs associated with data breaches.
7. Cloud Backup
Backing up applications and data to the cloud is easy and smart. Business-critical files are stored safely and securely, away from the business location where they are not subject to fire, theft, natural disasters and local cyberattacks. The service is affordable and quick to implement, and backups can be scheduled to take place automatically. If a disaster strikes, restoration of data stored in a cloud backup is usually headache-free, and business can go on as usual.
What problems does this service address? Potential data loss and devastating impacts on business.
Who needs this service? Businesses of all sizes and types.
Why do they need it? To reduce potential downtime and loss of business and customers should a disaster take place that wipes out on-premises computers and data-storage devices.
8. Cloud Services (infrastructure)
Infrastructure-as-service (IaaS) helps companies scale IT infrastructures according to demand and reduces unexpected capital expenses. IaaS is typically offered as a managed service or as a self-service platform, and either method gives businesses the reliability and flexibility of the cloud.
What problems does this service address? Unexpected IT resource demands.
Who needs this service? It's ideal for online retailers and other e-commerce businesses but companies in fast growth mode can benefit, too.
Why do they need it? Improves control over capital expenses and the operating budget, reduces processing delays and ensures transactions and customer service.
9. Cloud-Hosted VoIP
With a cloud-based VoIP phone system, there's no PBX system hardware to buy or maintain. The provider handles all those headaches. Businesses still benefit from the ability to configure the system quickly and easily from a computer. Otherwise, the system is essentially turnkey and offers all the usual benefits of VoIP service generally, including the ability to scale up or down, depending on business demands.
What problems does this service address? Reduces maintenance and hardware costs; provides the talent needed to manage a sophisticated VoIP system.
Who needs this service? Businesses on a growth path that are on a fixed budget and don't have an IT staff.
Why do they need it? To reduce maintenance and hardware costs; and for flexibility to scale up or down as needed.
10. Workforce Management Apps
It's challenging to deploy and maintain applications without IT personnel or if an IT staff is in place, that task can pull personnel away from projects that have larger business implications. Application management services are designed to simplify, streamline and secure applications across the entire business.
What problems does this service address? Maintaining secure and up-to-date applications.
Who needs this service? Businesses that rely on applications for employee productivity, operations, e-commerce and mobility are ideal candidates for this service, but even one-person companies can benefit from smaller-scale application services.
Why do they need it? For efficiency, security and streamlined operations.
11. Video Conferencing
Video conferencing allows two or more locations to communicate simultaneously, and the best of this technology closely duplicates the feeling of users being in the same room.
What problems does this service address? Miscommunication, high travel and related costs.
Who needs this service? This service is ideal for companies with remote workers and multiple offices and customers. It also works well for companies that require frequent interaction with vendors in distant locations and businesses that provide educational services. Examples: law firms, schools, hospitals, medical practices, construction companies and sales organizations.
Why do they need it? To reduce travel and related costs; and face-to-face communications ensures improved clarity and understanding.
12. Data Security
Small and medium-size business can’t protect their companies with anti-spam software alone. They need antivirus software, firewalls, intrusion prevention and applications that can defend against cyberattacks, malware and even internal security threats. Data loss or breaches can result in the loss of sensitive information and, in many business types, regulatory violations. Providers who offer data security will help companies build the layers of prevention that are needed to protect their business.
What problems does this service address? Data losses and breaches.
Who needs this service? All businesses, especially those that in regulated industries.
Why do they need it? To prevent regulatory violations, business interruptions and the loss of crucial data, and to preserve company reputation and prevent customer loss.
13. Web Hosting and Design Support
For many small businesses, designing a website that can effectively promote the company, its services and products can be overwhelming — especially when e-commerce is required. Many technology partners provide website design and web hosting and offer these services as stand-alone support or as part of a small business bundle.
What problems does this service address? The need for an effective, professional website and hosting solution.
Who needs this service? Most small businesses, but these services are especially ideal for companies that require e-commerce sites to sell products and services online.
Why do they need it? To speed market readiness, project a professional brand and keep costs low without negatively impacting quality.
14. Business Wi-Fi
Wirelessly connecting onsite to the internet gives small business owners, employees and visitors the ability to access the internet wherever they happen to be in the office or workspace. In retail, Wi-Fi allows employees to access inventory, take orders on the spot, and execute transactions without the need of a register. For small businesses in the hospitality industry and other customer-facing markets, offering Wi-Fi to customers is an amenity that builds satisfaction and in some cases, can be a potential revenue generator.
What problems does this service address? A lack of wireless connectivity throughout the workplace; and satisfies customer demand.
Who needs this service? This service is ideal for businesses of all sizes and types, including retail and the hospitality industry.
Why do they need it? To improve productivity and increase efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Television services provide programming of importance to your business, customers and/or employees. Uses range from the obvious — a television in every hotel room or at a local sports bar to the less obvious but equally important ― in a customer waiting room at a car repair facility, employee breakroom or the lobby of a medical practice. Surgical and dental offices also use television entertainment to reduce patient anxiety.
What problems does this service address? Provides access to entertainment and news; addresses competitive forces; reduces customer irritability over long waits and in some settings, anxiety.
Who needs this service? The hospitality industry, media companies, financial businesses, medical offices and facilities, and companies that want to offer their customers or employees entertainment.
Why do they need it? To attract customers, build loyalty and customer satisfaction, and as a competitive differentiator; and for some businesses, the ability to keep up with industry news reporting on a continuous basis.
16. Teleworking Support
Multiple mobility services assist businesses with teleworking employees and remote workers by enabling them to interact with customers and onsite employees seamlessly, as if they were in the workplace. Technology partners who include teleworking support as part of their suite of business offerings provide consulting to help companies choose the best combination of services for each company, according to their unique business demands.
What problems does this service address? Inconsistent brand presentation and communications with customers; lack of effective communication and a feeling of disconnectedness among teleworkers and remote workers with their teams.
Who needs this service? This service is ideal for businesses with teleworkers and remote workers who communicate with customers and with other employees as part of a team.
Why do they need it? To ensure consistent, professional communications with customers, reduce costs and improve productivity; in addition, to increase employee and customer satisfaction.
As part of a mobile strategy, GPS-enabled telematics services for small and medium- size businesses can help business owners monitor fleets as small as five vehicles. Drivers, vehicles, routes and field operations can be managed in real time using a desktop or mobile device app.
What problems does this service address? Maintenance issues, driver safety, unauthorized use of vehicles; and high cost of operations.
Who needs this service? Transportation companies, companies that regularly deliver goods and products to customers, service businesses and companies with rolling assets, such as construction vehicles.
Why do they need it? Telematics enables businesses to route drivers more efficiently, curb unsafe driving habits, reduce unauthorized vehicle use, ensure timely maintenance and improve cost management of fuel, route and maintenance of vehicle fleets.
18. Field Management
As part of a mobile strategy, field management products enable techs and other customer service personnel in the field to input in real time all the details of a project or service call plus estimates and quotes, invoicing and payment transactions and more using a mobile device and easy-to-use mobile app. Business owners can keep tabs on productivity and manage time estimates with greater reliability. The addition of telematics to field management services makes it possible to revise worker scheduling and routing on the fly and in real time.
What problems does this service address? Inaccurate time and work recording; scheduling issues and lag times between customer contact and generating estimates and quotes; and receiving invoice payment.
Who needs this service? Service and maintenance businesses, construction, remodeling and other companies that rely on field workers.
Why do they need it? Field management products ensure work performed and time spent is properly accounted for; reduces paperwork and lags in estimating and payment; and improves customer satisfaction.
Why bundling makes sense for small businesses
Many small businesses bundle internet services with other services, such as landlines, television, mobile communications, security and web hosting. Cost savings and operational efficiencies from working with one company rather than many to obtain these services make business bundles a good choice.
When evaluating providers and bundling options, first consider how your company operates online and the technology and reliability you need to operate efficiently, competitively and securely. Speed should not be the only factor in your final selection.
What are next steps?
This guide provides an overview of the services offered to businesses by technology companies that began life in the phone and entertainment spheres. Virtually all provide expert consultation to help owners solve communications, operations and commerce issues with the goal of streamlining and growing your business. Your next step should be to get in touch with these companies and find out what they can do to help you improve your business and accelerate growth.