SMEs denied 'fair' deal on mobile contracts, according to Billmonitor

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A new report from Billmonitor, the UK bill analysis and mobile price comparison service, has revealed UK SMEs overpay by £1bn on their mobile bills.

As an intermediary between SMEs and the mobile providers they procure, Billmonitor believes it has a unique viewpoint on what they should be spending. Its model indicated that one provider was more expensive than the competition, and suggested the cost difference between the cheapest and most expensive provider was 16 per cent for an average SME.

Billmonitor then sought to verify this finding by sending a number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to Ofcom, asking whether Ofcom’s data confirmed differences in average bills between mobile providers. The regulator resisted sharing evidence over consecutive FOI requests until, on the third request (February 2018), it revealed a “15-20” per cent cost difference between the cheapest and most expensive mobile provider for business services, confirming Billmonitor’s original findings. It then retracted those statements calling its own data “no longer reliable”).

However, Ofcom still refused to confirm the identity of the most expensive mobile provider, and suggested the significant cost differences between mobile providers might be attributable to varying average usage across the different providers.

Billmonitor built its own statistical model to test this, analysing bills from 356 businesses, comprising thousands of mobile connections. Importantly, this model accounted for differences in usage by SME customers of the different mobile providers, and strongly suggests Ofcom’s assertion was unfounded.

With 90 per cent confidence – based on the statistical analysis accounting for differences in usage – Billmonitor can reveal that EE is the most expensive major mobile provider in the UK for business contracts. Billmonitor can also - with 75 per cent confidence - reveal that O2 is likely to be more expensive than Vodafone.

“It is staggering that in a market so critical for businesses, there isn’t oversight to prevent SMEs falling victim to what is becoming its own ‘Wild West’,” said Dr Stelios Koundouros, Billmonitor’s founder and director. “We call on the CMA to investigate the business telecoms market, to take over the job Ofcom seems to show little interest in despite Billmonitor’s three year-long pleas, and ensure SMEs of all sizes get a fair deal when procuring a mobile provider ”

“The fact that one provider can charge firms with similar average usage significantly more than another is a symptom of a broken market. As we move into the post-Brexit era, empowering the UK’s SMEs with fairness and transparency - as the CMA successfully did for the energy market, whose uncompetitiveness was only half as costly for SMEs - should be a key point on the government’s agenda,” Koundouros added.