Cape Town - The majority of small businesses in South Africa do not realise they are probably paying too much for their telecommunications services.

SMMEs (small to medium enterprises) have very little understanding when it comes to saving money through having, for example, flexible telecommunications.This is the finding of an online survey recently conducted by IOL and Telfree among SMMEs.

The survey asked a wide variety of questions about whether businesses know what options are open to them. The results show that they do not.

Most survey respondents agree their business communications systems are outdated. The bad news, however, is that while they have considered switching to alternative telecommunications options to replace what they have been using for years, they do not know what the alternatives are nor do they have the time or manpower to research the necessary information to effect the change.

This then ensures that their current telecommunications bills will continue to escalate and erode bottom line margins already under threat from a squeezed economy.

A PABX (Private Automated Branch Exchange) system is a telephone network commonly used by businesses. It allows a single number to offer a set number of lines to outside callers while providing a range of external lines to staff members.

However, businesses are not benefiting from vital cost savings and flexible offerings in terms of managing their communications offered by modern day systems geared towards today's fast paced business exchanges - for example by having no physical switchboard but rather a cloud-hosted PBX system, incremental cost savings are experienced and the entire business image is boosted by a professional intrerface. Over 80 percent of respondents had never heard of these options.

Sixty percent of the SMMEs surveyed, have limited access to basic features such as pin-code access, fax to email, call recording and conference calling.

They do not know that they could be enjoying features such as their very own virtual receptionist and switchboard, greater stability and ease of use, real-time reporting, unlimited extensions, conference rooms, voicemail to email, follow me, free on-net calls, music call holding, call forwarding to mobile, PC fax to email, call barring, call recording, ADSL online account management. They also did not realise that there are options where long term contracts are not necessary and not applicable

While 96 percent of respondents have basic services such as fixed line telephone, mobile communications, email on mobile phones, SMS services and instant messaging, they're importantly missing out on a variety of services that are now readily available, such as highly competitive international rates, a national 087 number, a geographic number, notifications sent via email or SMS, send and receive SMSes, free mobile calls from smart phone SIP applications, online directory, call routing and so forth.

Asked what they were currently spending on communications, 82 percent of respondents said R5000, six percent said R9 000, four percent said R15 000, four percent spend over R16 000 while the other four percent have no idea how much the bill at the end of every month adds up to. A staggering 78 percent of respondents had staff counts of less than 10 members highlighting the high cost of traditional communication.

But, making the switch can save you up to 50 percent on your telecommunications - for example, to make and receive calls on Office Connection, a cloud hosted PBX system and to access all the aforementioned features, all you need is a SIP-enabled VoIP phone. It connects to an internet data line, instead of a traditional telephone line. VoIP phones offer robust, inexpensive and trendy handsets that are perfect for business use and your budget.

Time to make the switch

Considering how Telfree's Office Connection can fill all the gaps left by your current telecommunication provider; are you ready to make the switch? Over 90 percent of respondents said yes. Switching to VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and cloud hosted PBX services is not as intimidating as first thought.

Making the switch will guarantee better services at better pricing deals, the latest technology that integrates modern communications tools with existing, at real time cost monitoring; and no long term contracts, as 97 percent of you had hoped.

Aside from the survey reflecting just how high the cost of telecommunication is in South Africa, we have also come to the conclusion that most SMMEs do not know what questions to ask when it comes to choosing the best telecommunication solution. Because of this, a pattern of overspending persists and Telfree would like to change this.

* The winner of Telfree’s cloud-hosted PBX system, Office Connection, valued at R10 000 is Julian Fredericks of BaruchSA in Cape Town.

Telfree’s Office Connection offers a no fuss, low cost and easy to use, no long-term commitment 30-day contract, and best of all – it is as simple as a mouse click.

The survey was conducted through Survey Monkey via the IOL website. It ran for two months.