By Daniel Hunter

From the office defined by letters, desk phones and ash trays on the desk to one with no walls, email and ubiquitous mobile connectivity: Vodafone has marked the 30th anniversary of the UK’s first mobile phone call with a look at the impact of mobile and technology on British business.

· The first ever UK mobile phone call was made on 1 January 1985 over Vodafone’s network
· Since the first mobile phone call, mobile technology has become integral to business success with 67% of businesses citing mobile communications as being essential to satisfying the demand for being ‘always-on’ and responsive
· The cost of starting a business today is more than 13 times less than the cost of a mobile phone in 1985 (£312 versus equivalent to over £4000)

Thirty years after the first call was made, mobile telecoms and technology have come to be an indispensable part of business globally. From the time a ‘transportable’ mobile phone weighed a whopping 11lbs and only a select few could afford it to the sleek, easily affordable designs available today, mobile has radically changed the way we do business.

Mobile is now an essential business tool and is undeniably a lynchpin of business productivity, efficiency and customer service. It is no longer reserved for high flyers and high earners, but is instead a must-have - enabling businesses of any size to access information anytime, anywhere. In fact, recent Vodafone research found that 67% of businesses say mobile communications is essential to satisfying the demand for being ‘always-on’ and responsive.

“Mobile hasn’t only allowed employees to work from anywhere, it also means they can spread out across various offices and even countries while still effectively collaborating and working towards a common goal,” said David Langhorn, Head of Corporate and Large Enterprise at Vodafone UK.

“This has been one of the driving factors behind rapid expansion of large businesses, and the creation of borderless enterprise. Some of our own research recently found that 60 per cent of employees need to work with colleagues in another country and 68 per cent of senior managers say it is easier than ever before to trade internationally. This in turn has positive impact on the economy as businesses can now grow and operate on a scale they never would have thought possible 30 years ago.”

Mobile, mobile, mobile

Since the first mobile phone call, the growth of mobile has been exponential. Today, there are 7 billion mobile connections globally and over 45 million in the UK alone, according to the GSMA, and the UK ICT market is worth £58 billion annually, according to UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

The rise of other technology tools such as cloud services, unified communications, secure remote working and 4G have also become a priority investment area for a variety of businesses, helping them to drive productivity, cost savings and differentiate services to their customers.

Creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs
While the tools needed for businesses today may be more extensive than in 1985, technology has dramatically reduced set up costs, and therefore risk, for aspiring entrepreneurs. Investment in real estate, maintenance and other overheads in 1985, for example, meant that business owners often had to make significant capital investment to make it through the set up phase, and they usually took out loans against their homes. Today, the average consumer has access to everything they need to set up a business from anywhere e.g. laptop, smartphone, tablets, social platforms for networking and even a virtual landline on their mobile.

As a result, starting a business is much more accessible. PeoplePerHour estimated the average cost of a new business set up was £312 in 2013 — more than 10 times less than the cost of the device used to make the first mobile call on Vodafone’s network.

For Britain in particular, the accessibility of mobile technology has contributed to a surge in young entrepreneurs that have struggled to find work in the post-recession marketplace. The country has risen to the fourth most entrepreneurial economy in the world, according to the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index.

Mobile technologies, together with affordable and scalable technologies like cloud services are also helping SMEs to compete with their larger counterparts, be more responsive to customers and be more successful. Research from Vodafone released in June last year found that two-thirds of employees in ‘progressive’ SMEs use smartphones and laptops as well as other mobile technologies. This suggests that these businesses take more action to ensure their employees and customers interact more flexibly and more efficiently.

Jonathan Kini, Head of Small & SME Business added: “Mobile and remote connectivity is no longer a luxury in business; it’s a necessity for business owners and a widely held expectation amongst employees. Research by the Federation of Small Businesses found 71% of businesses rated mobile phones as crucial or very important to their business.

“In addition to this, a recent Vodafone survey found that 86% of a business’ employees demand flexible working while 60%, in fact, equip the majority of their employees with these options. Furthermore, the ability to be fully mobile and conduct business from anywhere has empowered SMEs and start-ups to take on their larger competitors.”

The future looks ‘cloudy’

Phil Mottram, Vodafone’s Enterprise Director, summed up the changes to the market: “Innovation in communications technology over the last thirty years has helped pave the way for digital transformation of businesses.

"Organisations of all sizes now view communications as a way to improve operational effectiveness, deliver cost saving, improve productivity and increase agility to capitalise on opportunities. It also enables them to differentiate services and stand out from the competition. Recent research supports the point of view that organisations are adopting new technology more quickly, 71% of business leaders say they are confident their business can transition from a state of digital transformation to digital maturity within just five years.

“Trends such as the increased adoption of cloud services mean that the playing field has levelled between large corporates and smaller organisations, with all businesses having access to the latest innovations in technology. As with the last thirty years, the businesses that will be most successful are those that are smart about adopting technology, making it work for their business in order to drive growth."