Can the SME do without the Fixed Line? BigTinCan thinks so.

Can a small business do without a fixed phone line and remain credible? Richard Chirgwin finds a local company that believes mobile businesses can have it all.

It’s a curious piece of business psychology. Most of us use our mobiles far more than our fixed lines, yet many people form a poor opinion of a SME that doesn’t keep a fixed line.

So although BigTinCan’s Connect services isn’t just designed to let mobile SMEs have a “pseudo fixed line”, it is a happy side-effect of Connect.

David Keane, CEO of BigTinCan, said Connect could be viewed as a hosted PABX service in which the small business uses a smartphone instead of fixed lines or IP phones as the endpoints.

This means businesses whose communication is dominated by mobile calls, either because they have no suitable office for a PABX, or because like tradespersons they’re out of the office most of the time, can eliminate not just the fixed line, but the expense and hassle of a small office phone system.

Connect supports inbound calls terminating to the mobile, while for outbound calls, it acts as a callback system.

“When you dial a number on your smartphone, it sends a small data request to our server, which places the call and calls you back.”

Keane agrees that many users won’t default to the callback environment for their business calls.

“I don’t see customers replacing their current plans with BigTinCan Connect,” he said.

“But if you buy a mobile plan, you get a whole lot of bundled minutes – when you use that up, we’re a money saver. And Connect is great for off-plan calls, such as international numbers and 1300 calls.”

With around 50 international operations, Keane said, the Connect service is able to offer low-cost calling to most of the places that businesses need to call from Australia (and, of course, the ability to “locate” a number offshore means that incoming calls are handled by the service rather than by telco networks).

Another selling point is manageability. Like a conventional hosted PABX service, BigTinCan Connect offers Web-based call management.

This covers features such as time-of-day call handling in which an outside caller might be routed to voicemail, but a customer or business partner’s call is connected to the mobile.

Other features the user is able to manage over the Web interface include conference calling, call recording, voicemail, and caller ID control. This includes allowing users to decide whether to accept calls with no incoming ID, or how to handle calls without ID.

Keane said the company has also priced the service so as to make it attractive even for short-term users. “You might be based in Sydney but working in Melbourne for a month – so you can get a number for $5.95 and use it for your calls.”

BigTinCan also supports local number portability. Businesses who now have PSTN numbers, if those numbers are portable, can migrate those numbers into a Connect service.

The chief requirement for the Connect customer is that they have smartphones that are able to run the BigTinCan application. To make the appeal as wide as possible, Keane said, BigTinCan supports iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile or Android environments.

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