Dave Millett of telecoms brokers Equinox highlights examples of sharp practice in the telecoms industry and explains how to protect your business from unscrupulous sales people
Since BT announced the end of ISDN lines a number of suppliers have been pushing businesses to migrate to SIP and connect their phone system to the internet. However, ISDNs will be around until 2025, so there is no immediate need to switch.
SIP can offer a number of benefits but it needs a strong Internet connection to succeed and these additional costs need to be offset. One trick is to leave items out of the quote so you’re not comparing like-with-like. In addition, deals are often for 60 months. This is a long time to be tied in when prices are tending to go down, not up.
For organisations whose phone systems are not compatible with SIP, suppliers offer a converter box. This is often sold on a long-term lease hire, tying the customer to the supplier and giving them the opportunity to raise prices over time. In one case, by 45% over four years.
The importance of itemised bills
One supplier used what looked like a landline number for its broadband support desk, but in fact charged calls at 50p a minute. To hide this from scrutiny, it wouldn’t provide itemised calls as standard. The customer only realised the true cost when he spent an hour on the support line and noticed that his next bill was £30 higher than normal.
We’ve also come across VoIP providers that don’t offer itemised calls but just send a top-up bill when they say funds have been used up. This gives them immense scope to apply minimum charges, set up fees and even uplift call rates. Always demand a priced, itemised, monthly call report. If the supplier won’t provide it, perhaps they have something to hide.
Mobile hardware funds have always been an opportunity for dirty tricks such as holding back amounts not used at the end of a contract, or inflating the hardware fund to make it look bigger whilst raising the cost of phones so the fund actually goes no further.
Buried in the small print of one supplier’s contract was a clause stating that if a customer left them they had either to return the phones or pay back half the hardware funds provided, which in the case we saw amounted to £12,000.
If someone offers you hardware funds, check they do not have a boomerang attached. Even better, ask for the hardware fund in cash and then you control it.
Too good to be true?
Finally, if a supplier calls offering a free PBX and charges less than what you currently pay for lines and calls ask them the following questions:
1. How long is the contract I would have to enter?
2. What will our line rental and call costs be?
3.Would we own the system outright at the end of the contract or is this a hire agreement?
4. What make and model of system are you offering and with what handsets? Google the models to make sure you are not being palmed off with end-of-life or obsolete products.
5. Are line rental and call costs fixed until the end of the contract? If not, this gives them the chance to increase prices.
In our experience no one has ever replied to these questions, which tells you all you need to know.
There are many good operators out there, but unfortunately there are also a large number of unscrupulous ones. As a business owner, you need to be wary, ask lots of questions and check, then double-check everything.