Do businesses still need a landline?
Telephone choices for small and medium businesses are more complex than they used to be.
Some firms hand out mobiles (or ask staff to use their own), doing away with any other form of phone system. Others use tried-and-trusted ‘landline’ systems, with desktop phones and a simple range of functions, such as call transfer. A third group now uses internet-based landline alternatives which can offer new possibilities.
And if telephone systems have changed, so has work. Far more staff now work from home or multiple locations, at least sometimes, and this impacts the type of phone system that will work best for an SME and its customers.
To make things yet more complicated, businesses in the UK may already be hearing about the switch-off of traditional copper ISDN phone lines in 2025.
So what phone system works best for SMEs? And is the ‘landline’ dead?
What is a landline?
A landline means different things to different people, so we need to be clear what we’re talking about.
There are three main types of phone system used by SMEs today.
These transmit a signal via radio waves. Clearly they aren’t landlines.
Traditional phone lines
Connected to a network of copper or aluminium wires. Audio travels like sound waves along these wires. These are what most people call landlines – and what we’ll call landlines in this guide.(If we want to get technical, this is actually the PSTN, or Public Switched Telephone Network. It includes the ISDN (the Integrated Services Digital Network) which is commonly used by traditional business phone systems.)
Internet-based phone systems
Usually called cloud telephony systems. Here, audio is turned into digital data packets that travel in the same way as other web traffic across the internet.
- Cloud Voice
With the ISDN switch off looming, Roselands knew they needed to upgrade to a VoIP system in order to keep providing excellent service to their customers – but they didn’t have time for any hassle.
Can’t my business just use mobiles?
Do I actually need a landline or cloud-phone system?
Running a business entirely on mobiles isn’t impossible. In fact, quite a lot can be done on mobiles alone. But it’s almost always an inferior experience for your customers and staff.
The downsides include:
- Customers going straight to voicemail when the mobile is in use or out of reception – rather than to someone else who could answer. Businesses miss out on new opportunities as a result.
- Low call quality due to poor signal in certain areas and parts of buildings.
- Difficulties in transferring calls from one staff member to another.
- Difficulties in accessing shared voicemail.
- Staff having to use personal devices, which many do not want to do, or the firm having to invest in a work mobile each for staff.
- Staff having to make personal phone numbers public.
- Not being able to use features that give customers the best experience, such as hunt groups.
If you’re a tiny business, receiving few queries from the general public, and doing work where handling calls is not crucial, you might be able to work just fine using mobiles. If not, you are likely to encounter difficulties.
Find out the differences between traditional ISDN lines and VoIP
What sorts of businesses need a landline or cloud telephony?
This depends on your business size, staff numbers, how many calls you get, and how much work you do on the phone. It also depends on how much importance you put on seeming professional.
Let’s look at three business scenarios and their phone communication requirements:
John Leak Plumbers Ltd
Specialist plumber, six employees, no front office.
You might be able to operate fairly well just using mobiles. However, this choice will have downsides. The person using the phone with the publicly available number will face interruptions from calls, or have to let calls ring through to voicemail and deal with them at the end of their day. You are creating the impression of being a personal operation – which might be what you want, but probably limits growth.
Three specialist solicitors.
Although the practicalities of your call handling will not be difficult, reputationally, it will be vital that you have a ‘landline’ number. In an area where trust is so crucial, potential clients may turn away from a firm only offering a mobile number. You will also want to think about how to handle calls professionally while you’re all busy (most of the time); this is impossible with mobiles.
30 staff; estate agents.
You will undoubtedly need a landline or cloud phone system. Practically, you will need to transfer calls seamlessly to an expert with the right skills and who is available. You may want multiple people to be able to access voicemails, with features such as voicemail to email. Mobiles are not an option here.
So what sort of business ‘landline’ do I need?
There are three key things to consider in answering this question: the system’s effect on your reputation, system functionality, and how long the system will continue to operate reliably.
Reputation and customer trust
Presenting a landline or non-mobile telephone number builds trust in a way that a mobile telephone number does not. It’s a little like the difference between a firm that uses email addresses linked to the company’s domain name and a Gmail account.
Verdict? Both traditional landlines and VOIP will give you this advantage.
Both allow you to route incoming calls according to rules – for example, ring this phone first, then try No 2, then transfer to voicemail. Both give a smooth call transfer experience. But cloud telephony brings much more flexibility. Perhaps most importantly, in an era of hybrid home/office working, it allows you to route calls to a mobile phone, a laptop or a desktop, wherever you might be on that particular day. It gives complete flexibility to work remotely or across multiple business sites, while presenting the same phone number.
Verdict? Both offer essential features for professional call handling. But only cloud phone systems let you work from anywhere, or from a laptop or mobile, while presenting the same number.
Will the system keep working well into the future?
The simple answer is yes for cloud phone systems (barring the end of the internet, which seems unlikely) and no for traditional landlines. In the UK, ISDN phone lines will be turned off in 2025 – and before then in some cases. At that point, there will be no ‘traditional landline’ available.
And, leading up to 2025, support will start to dwindle; fewer ISDN–trained engineers are now available to fix faults, availability of parts will fall off, and the quality of the network will reduce.
Verdict? Like it or not cloud telephony is the future. By 2025 the traditional landline will be a thing of the past.
|Work from anywhere||✔||✔|
|Complex call handling possible||✔||✔|
|Sustainable for foreseeable future||✔||✔|
|Make or take calls on mobiles||✔||✔|
|Professional-looking public number||✔||✔|