"Without communications all I command is my desk," said legendary American airforce general Thomas Power.

But most small and medium enterprises do not focus on how they communicate, according to the Communications Experts Group.

Director Walter Green said only a fifth of 800 SMEs surveyed did their homework to find a suitable plan.

He found many were paying too much for their services, and an investigation of their bills showed 10 per cent had overpaid because of pricing errors.

"Some of the errors went back eight or nine years, so there were refunds of up to $1600," he says.

Despite the regular pricing mistakes, only 3 per cent were aware of free dispute-settling services provided by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

In a series of papers commissioned by the Australian Institute of Management WA, Dr Green sets out what SMEs need to consider when researching a communications plan.

How much should SMEs pay for fixed land lines and calls?

Dr Green says some telcos charge about $60 a month, excluding call costs, for the line, following a price increase approved by the telecom regulator.

But VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocols) was much cheaper, with packages costing $27 a month covering the rental cost for several lines and a medium volume of calls.

He says equivalent costs through regular landlines would be about $80. While said some VOIP carriers had low voice quality, iiNet and Aecom offered the same quality as regular lines.

What about internet packages?

Dr Green says that as a benchmark, SMEs should not pay more than $50 a month for 100 gigabytes.

He says internet packages have increased the volume of data downloads by three to 10 times in recent years, without increasing price.

Businesses locked into a plan may be able to boost their data limit at no extra cost, with a simple request to their provider. But beware the hidden pitfall with some of these plans, which in some cases include uploads in the data limit.

This means that even "free" services, such as Facebook, may be added to your bigger limit.

Mobile data plans?

Dr Green says the costs of mobile data services can be as low as $8 or $15 per gigabyte, with excess data charges of 1¢ per megabyte or $10 per gigabyte - an incredible drop from $250 per gigabyte in 2012.

He says most people use 2 gigabyte per month, so you should avoid plans with excess data charges of more than 20¢ per megabyte (or $20 per gigabyte).

"Excess charges are the killer," he says.

"One client who exceeded the limit racked up a $300 bill in four hours online."

Dr Green recommends small businesses install a WiFi unit in their premises and also ensure that staff phones automatically log-on to the WiFi network.

Mobile phone calls?

Most mobile plans offer capped call plans with two-minute mobile call costs of about $2.50.

This means that if you stay within your capped limit you will pay between 8 cents/min to 15 cents/min for your voice calls.

If you exceed the cap, the cost of your mobile voice calls increases to $2.50 per minute.

And international calls from mobiles?

Dr Green says most mobile plans charge $20,000 per gigabyte, resulting in some massive mobile phone bills for travelling Australians.

But a new Perth carrier called CORONA is offering worldwide international coverage at 45 cents a minute through an app.

After installing the app, your new number can be used to contact you while you have access to an acceptable WiFi service. This service still works if your phone is locked to one carrier.

© The West Australian

First published in the WestBUSINESS Big Deal magazine.

More business news at thewest.com.au.