Hello, is Buzby still there?

Inside the Enterprise: BT moves to link smartphones to its landline services are good news for consumers, but less good for mobile operators.

BT phone boxes

Younger readers might not know Buzby, British Telecom's fluffy yellow bird mascot from the company's advertising campaigns in the '70s and '80s. But although Busby and even the British Telecom brand has been replaced, BT has shown considerable capacity to reinvent itself, in the face of a rapidly changing industry.

The company's latest strategy to forestall declining revenues in its landline business is to offer voice over IP (VoIP) services, to smart phone users. The software, for Android handsets and iPhones, allows BT subscribers to use their BT landline rates for mobile calls, either over WiFi or via a mobile data connection.

Cleverly, if the call is free from a BT landline if it is included in the customer's calling bundle, for example then it is also free from the smartphone. This includes 0800 numbers, which are always free from BT lines but which, accorinding to telecoms regulator Ofcom, can cost up to 21 pence from a mobile. Depending on the calling plan, 0845 and 0870 calls can be free too. For business users calling conferencing services, this alone could make for some handy savings. You can also use the standard BT tariff for calls from abroad.

BT recommends using a Wi-Fi connection for the service, which it calls SmartTalk, but it will also work over mobile data. Users of the service would, of course, need a fairly generous data plan to avoid incurring data charges, although simple voice traffic is not especially data hungry.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

Consumers might also fall foul of terms and conditions on mobile contracts. EE an attractive option for VoIP because of its 4G data speeds states in its tariff that "The Services are not to be used to gain access to the services of a third party voice over internet protocol calling provider unless permitted by the terms and conditions of Your Price Plan", although it is unclear how rigorously such clauses are enforced. Such restrictions do not apply when using a smartphone over Wi-Fi.

Voice over IP services on smartphones are not new, of course, with Skype available on Android and iOS, and other services, such as VoIP software for dedicated services using protocols such as SIP. But these services have tended to lack the ease of use of conventional mobile calling, and SIP set-up, whilst not that technically challenging, is perhaps not yet suitable for mainstream consumers.

Nor does BT have any immediate plans to make SmartTalk available for business users, although this, potentially, could be a big draw. BT still provides the overwhelming majority of business landlines in the UK, and rolling out the service to business subscribers could hit mobile operators hard. But there is nothing to stop business users linking a work smartphone to a residential BT line, if they wish.

Sadly though, although Buzby made a brief appearance as a BT mascot for the London 2012 Games, there are no long-term plans to bring him back. But at least on smartphones, we have Angry Birds

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.

Featured Resources

What you need to know about migrating to SAP S/4HANA

Factors to assess how and when to begin migration

Download now

Your enterprise cloud solutions guide

Infrastructure designed to meet your company's IT needs for next-generation cloud applications

Download now

Testing for compliance just became easier

How you can use technology to ensure compliance in your organisation

Download now

Best practices for implementing security awareness training

How to develop a security awareness programme that will actually change behaviour

Download now



LTE vs 4G

16 Sep 2019

4G vs 5G - what's the difference?

25 Mar 2019

Most Popular

data governance

Brexit security talks under threat after UK accused of illegally copying Schengen data

10 Jan 2020
Microsoft Windows

What to do if you're still running Windows 7

14 Jan 2020
Microsoft Windows

Memes and Viking funerals: The internet reacts to the death of Windows 7

14 Jan 2020
operating systems

17 Windows 10 problems - and how to fix them

13 Jan 2020