SMBs cool on VoIP: survey

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Exploding recent vendor hype about VoIP adoption by SMBs, latest Pacific Internet research suggests only one percent of companies with fewer than 200 staff have adopted the technology.

Only another six percent plan to use VoIP in the future, Pacific Internet's October Broadband Barometer survey suggested. The Broadband Barometer is a regular broadband use survey of Australian SMBs by the ISP.

Dennis Muscat, managing director at Pacific Internet, said VoIP adoption seemed to be concentrated in the bigger end of town. In SMBs, it was either very much at an early adopter stage or had fallen into a chasm.

"Where is VoIP? Only one percent are using VoIP, and only six percent are saying they will use VoIP," he said. "What has happened to that hyped-up technology?"

Muscat said he got called three or four times a week by people trying to push yet another VoIP wholesaler. But the statistics showed that Australia's 800,000 SMBs weren't buying it anyway.

"In businesses with one to 199 employees, we don't see it," he said.

Some other "hyped technologies", such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), video-conferencing and unified messaging also were not selling into smaller companies, he said.

Australia had some 2.8 million registered businesses, so a large percentage were SMBs, he added.

Muscat also noted that broadband uptake had improved significantly, with most opting for some variety of 256Kb/s xDSL. VoIP really needed much more bandwidth. SMBs also perhaps did not understand what VoIP was and what it could offer, he speculated.

Pacific Internet's last Broadband Barometer survey was 14 months ago. Sixty-four percent of SMBs used dialup in 2003, but in October 2005 that figure appeared to have shrunk to around 27 percent.

"Only about five percent of those surveyed were operating businesses that did not have any internet service," Muscat said.

Regional areas had also moved ahead in broadband adoption, which three years ago had been about half the rate of takeup in cities. Today, broadband takeup in regional areas had reached 70 percent, he said.

Ninety-three percent of SMBs used their internet connection for email. Many were using or planning to use their broadband to increase access to or use different applications, he said.

Sales, CRM and ASP (application service provision) tools were beginning to move into the SMB market, Muscat said.

"There will be a 210 percent increase in SMBs adopting ASP tools over the next 12 months," he said. "Also, industry-specific applications that often rely on broadband, like health systems, will deliver 75 percent growth in SMB use."

Security concerns were growing. About 60 percent used spam management tools and 52 percent a software firewall. Another 50 percent had opted for a hardware firewall. Some 54 percent of Australian SMBs surveyed said they were "very aware" of the need to protect customer and staff data, Muscat added.

Fifty percent were most concerned about security of data and financial transactions, while 23 percent were "very concerned" about computer viruses, he said.

Landry Fevre, analyst at IDC, said the survey was carried out by telephone. The last Broadband Barometer had been performed by ACNeilsen 14 months ago, so the results weren't entirely comparable.

"If you do it online, you're already assuming people are online," Fevre pointed out.

Some 70 percent of the 305 respondents who were on broadband were on 256Kb/s connections, he added.

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