Business ofcom

UK Calling what does Ofcom new ruleset really mean?

Ofcom new UK calling rules muddy the waters – calls to mobile and 0870/0845 will rise

Today is the day that brings changes to the way telephone calls are charged for 084, 087, 09 and 118 numbers. The Ofcom new UK Calling rules are the latest initiative from the UK regulator that claims to make the cost of calling these numbers clear for everyone.

However, looking over the website, it doesn’t actually say what the cost of calling an 0845 number is on the new scheme. Their own calculator on the ‘Cost of Calling’ page is no use either. Enter ‘0845’ and it says “Calls are typically charged at between 1p and 12p per minute depending on the time of day for landline customers, plus a call set-up fee. Calls from mobile phones generally cost between 5p and 40p per minute.”

Doesn’t seem clear to me? What is the cost? Tell me the money!

The new charging structure is as follows. There is an access charge and a service charge that together make the overall call charge. The access charge is what your provider charges you and the service charge is the portion that goes to the service provider. Add the two together and I get the call rate. Makes sense to the telephone geeks, me included. I like maths but at least I have the sense to know that most people don’t.

To be fair to Ofcom, this works best with telephone voting on TV. You will now see a message that says something like vote for Dan, “Calls cost 20p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge.”

This should be clearer if you can remember the access charge for you provider!

You can probably tell from the tone of this article that I am not supportive of this initiative. I have often joked that Ofcom has no powers to fix the problems in the market unless it is related to TV voting and then they come up with this UK Calling nonsense that seems to be focussed on TV voting!

The more I look at Ofcom’s project, the less I am sure of what it is trying to achieve. Fact, non geographic numbers are confusing, no one knows how much it costs to call them, even me with my power for numbers. Fact, mobile providers charge ridiculous rates for calling these numbers.

So Ofcom must have some goals?  Goal, simplify the whole system so that more people understand the costs of calling non geographic numbers. Goal, try to ensure mobile and other telecom providers reduce their rates to the caller.

So let’s look at the first goal. Simplification.

When I speak to customers and they ask me the cost of something, they always want a straight answer or at least something that makes sense in English. Up until now I have been able to answer the question, how much does it cost us to call 0845, 0870 and 0871 from our  service? The answer was 3p and 1p and 11p. Pretty straightforward. Now the answer is that we charge an access charge of 3p, plus the service charge for that number. My answer now doesn’t tell you the actual cost to call. The answer to that question is an now unknown and possibly different for every number you may dial. If I was speaking to the customer I would probably now say, ‘well we charge 3p per minute plus whatever you will get stung for by the service charge but I am with you on this one regarding the costs, who knows, it’s a lottery mate’.

Doesn’t sound simpler to me.

So what about reducing costs. In the past Mobile providers have managed to charge huge amounts for calling 08 numbers. But guess what, this UK Calling thing hasn’t sorted this. Mobile access charges are still high. A text regarding the change from my provider Three managed to include a hidden message to Ofcom.

‘Do you call numbers that start 084, 087, 09 or 118? From 1 July how these calls are charged is changing & will cost more. To find out more click …’

Did you spot it? Yes, ‘will cost more’. A small F you to Ofcom?

One second though. 0800 and 0808 numbers are now free to call on mobiles. Yes, this is indeed the greatest thing go come out of the whole initiative. Except, sorry Ofcom, no credit or pat on the back for this. You are just finally fixing something you should have stamped down on the day the mobile providers started charging for something that was meant to be free anyway. Dense question of the week for you. Freephone, how much is that to call? Anyone? Anyone?

Another reason the cost of calling has also gone up, is because Ofcom has let service providers set their own pricing for their number ranges. 0870 which were cheaper to call thanks to Ofcom’s previous initiative are now up by 10p per minute and 0845 service charges seem to be several pence per minute higher now from the providers I have checked. And why not? It’s a good time for service providers to take the opportunity to make increases hidden amongst the other changes.

So Ofcom have neither simplified nor reduced costs to the consumer with this new initiative!

The painful outcome of all this is. It has increased the cost of calling these number to the end user. Ofcom has allowed service providers to set their own prices on 0845, 0870 and 0871 and therefore fragmented the number ranges to make it impossible to answer the question, how much does it cost to call an 0845. Ofcom has forced providers to waste hours changing systems and communicating this to customers for no tangible benefit.

But wait, there might be one really positive and hidden message from all of this.
“Service providers, ditch your expensive 084 and 087 numbers and get an 03 number instead. That is if you want anyone to call you.”

See also this post by Simon Woodhead in which he quantifies how much prices will go up as a result of this move by Ofcom.

Business phones UC voip voip hardware

Invest Wisely to Get the Best from VoIP welcomes VoIP Week contributor Dan Winfield, Co-Founder and CEO of Voxhub and 2014 ITSPA Council member.

Starting in, I want to say that this is only my second blog piece on (the first being The Smoking Rooms of Net Neutrality, published yesterday), so please excuse me if I state the bleeding obvious. Yes, I know this site’s readership is a refined audience, one with Gig connections, fibre thing, flashing lights and fancy equipment — the whole package — however I am aiming today at normal businesses that might stumble over here via Google.

I’ll try to explain.

VoIP is the most sensitive service that graces computer networks. It needs love and care to ensure that it performs as a telephone service should, for every call, over and over, 24 hrs a day. And to push it around, it craves low latency, as well as highly available constant bandwidth connectivity with reliable networking equipment. Ironically, for many VoIP is about saving money, yet the less you spend the less likely the chances are that it is getting the environment it needs. All of which is why you need to invest wisely to get the best from VoIP.

As a council member for ITSPA I can safely say that the vast majority of member service providers have invested well in their data centres and equipment. If you are a business that uses one of these providers and you are having quality problems, then 90% of the time (or more) it is your lack of investment that is to blame.

At Voxhub we often receive calls from people saying that they have poor quality VoIP from another provider and want to hear about what we can do better. Many years ago my first thought would have been that their problem had to do with their provider and I would have sympathised with them. Today, though, I go further and try to work out precisely why they are experiencing poor service. After all, there might be some underlying reason for the problems that we wouldn’t want them to bring over, should they opt to switch to our service. It never takes very long to realise that 90% of the time (or more) the cause of the problem is a lack of investment on their side, the most likely candidates being poor cabling, cheap routers, and single Internet connections that are shared between computers and phones.

Sadly, a lot of businesses don’t invest in their Internet connections for any type of on-line service from which they plan to draw benefit, so any advice I give from this point forward applies to investing correctly to benefit from any VoIP, cloud, or on-line service used by your business. Of course, I cannot say precisely how much should be spent, and I think that for the smallest business investing doesn’t have to mean spending very much at all. I would suggest, though, that when you invest you think about the following to help put things in perspective:

1. Don’t cut corners. Consider your goals and be careful not to erode them by being too cutthroat or going too cheap.
Service Provider: “We have a proven 4 minute abs program for rippling muscles, guaranteed.”
You: “Can you do it quicker? I have seen that available on-line for 3.
2. Put your VoIP outlay in context by comparing it to what you spend on other business expenses.
I know of a company that spent hundreds of thousands on fine wood floors for their new office and still took convincing to spend any money on good network equipment. If you have no problem buying an iPhone as a business expense then you have should have no problem spending half that on a router that is used by your whole company every day of the week.
3. Imagine you are investing in an invisible team member.
Everyone agrees that ‘Investing in People’ is essential for good business. As such, it can really put things into perspective to consider any Internet/VoIP investment you make as an invisible team member, a “person” who is relied upon by everyone in your business for all of your essential services, telephone, mail, administration, banking, security, and even employee happiness (if you let them watch cat videos and essential World Cup events). If you don’t make the right hiring choice you will end up getting poor attendance, under achievement…in essence, a “person” that lets down your whole team.
4. VoIP may not work on a network just because the BBC website loads quickly.
I am sorry to say it, but at some point the finer details become important. Working out what you need to invest versus what you have already invested requires some evaluation expertise. At Voxhub we take on this responsibility for our customers, providing advice, verified equipment, and testing tools for networks that tell us our customers what kind of performance they are actually getting.

Somewhere along the line you will need expertise and advice, whether the quantifying comes from your own team, your IT company, or your VoIP provider. Once you find the right source of help, trust them and let them deliver for you…then be sure to hold onto them and don’t let them go!

VoIP Week Posts:

net neutrality voip

The Smoking Rooms of Net Neutrality welcomes VoIP Week contributor Dan Winfield, Co-Founder and CEO of Voxhub and 2014 ITSPA Council member.

Net neutrality is a hot topic amongst those in the VoIP industry and something all VoIP providers have had to deal with in one form or another, usually looming its head in the land of large network providers and mobile networks. Did you know, though, that there are many places in the UK where you are not free to use your favourite VoIP provider? No joke, as difficult as it is to believe, there are still places in 2014 that judge based on the protocol. And these places are on every block, every city and are allowed to openly discriminate.

Yes, I am talking about serviced offices.

VoIP services are about flexibility, and ironically this is what serviced offices are supposed to offer. So why do I put my head in my hands when I hear that a client is moving to a serviced office? In my experience, Voxhub customers making such a move typically have to leave because they are not allowed to use our service or they cannot do so due to firewall blocking. Also, much stress is generated during such ‘events’ due to customers becoming annoyed with the situation and, in the case of blocking, are often caught between two parties with no service! Of course, at Voxhub we do our best to find a diplomatic solution for any customers wanting to move to a serviced office, but it isn’t a task we like to undertake.

Before going any further I should say that I am fully aware of the financial dynamics of serviced offices, and the fact that they often have to invest in telephony for whole buildings in advance and figure out how to somehow repay this investment.  The grey area in all of this — and where the real problem lies — is that all serviced offices supply ‘Internet’ to their customers. Thus, as ‘VoIP services’ are synonymous with ‘Internet’, such services should not be blocked on the grounds that they compete with the in-house telephony VoIP or otherwise.

So why do I care? Let me quote Bender, that wise robot from the much loved cartoon “Futurama”:

“This is the worst kind of discrimination. The kind against me!”

I’ll explain. I have spent much of the last 6 months looking for office space for our Voxhub team in London, and as such have been forced to enter the underbelly of the office world as a potential customer. We sought our own office, but also investigated the serviced office option. Normally I would cross the road when I see a serviced office for fear of being jeered at, but there is a disturbing new type that dress themselves up as modern, fun and ‘Internet’ savvy. They even have high ceilings, wooden floors, unfinished walls and random furniture in corners of rooms. I was fooled, enough at least to give the concept a chance.

In one case, I was actually quite near to signing up with one of these new breed serviced offices. Naturally, I had asked questions about using our own phones, but I always had a sneaky feeling that they didn’t understand. At the very end of the process, in fact, they asked me how many of their phones I would want, and they even went as far as to increase the quoted rent costs when I said they could keep their phones because I didn’t need them. They tried to concede, but then stupidly said I had to pay an extra charge based on the number of phones in the room. Anyone who has seen our desks knows that this is a dumb thing to say, as during service development or trials we often have upwards of three or four phones on a single desk! Of course, I told them to stuff it.

I decided to make one last set of enquiries for serviced offices to see if my prejudice is correct. Sadly, it only made it clearer in my mind that these businesses need to be slapped into shape when it comes to understanding net neutrality.

  • All advertised Internet but gave no warning that certain services were not allowed.
  • Many very clearly indicated that I could not use VoIP telephones.
  • Some said I could use Skype but not the Voxhub service.
  • Some didn’t know anything but told me I had to direct my question to their telecom provider.

I had a very colourful call with one lady that highlights the problem. She told me that for our service I was allowed to use a software phone like Skype, that I wasn’t allowed to use a hardware VoIP phone, that I was allowed to use a laptop with a headset (and if the headset looked like a phone handset, that was also OK), and that I wasn’t allowed to use a laptop that looked like a phone with my headset from the previous question that looked like a handset.

VoIP Serviced Offices

As you can no doubt imagine, at this point I was trying not to laugh and the woman was probably wishing she hadn’t spoken to me. I snuck in one last question about using a phone that looked like a laptop, but I think by that point she realised something was going on and made an excuse about me needing to speak to someone more technical.

In all seriousness, by the end of the process I felt that not only was VoIP effectively blacklisted, but that my business wasn’t even allowed to trade in a serviced office without using someone else’s phones or paying danger money for being there!

A serviced office, in my opinion, should be considered a service provider and be included as part of any regulatory requirements and / or best practices, especially if they have outsourced their operations to a service provider that in any other environment would not operate this type of practice.

At day’s end, I am extremely glad that we were pushed away from taking a serviced office. Voxhub has now been accepted as a member of TechHub (we love hubs) and we are moving into our new studio space in Old Street today!

VoIP Week Posts: