In this post, we’ll try to cut through some of the marketing spiel and help you shop smarter for this essential element of your operations.
Step 1: Understand your business’ needs
In order to choose a suitable business internet connection, you’ll need to understand your organisation’s current and future IT requirements.
Think about how your staff and customers use the internet when operating or interacting with your company. Do they just need to access email and browse the web… or do they regularly stream video content, download large files, take part in audio conferencing or use a VoIP telephone system? If they don’t now, is the situation likely to change in the next few years? All of these things require a more robust connection and greater bandwidth, so you’ll need to take this into account when considering different internet service providers (ISPs) and packages.
If your organisation is small, you might feel you could get away with using a residential broadband connection. These are often cheaper than services aimed at businesses, but be wary of potential pitfalls. Some packages prohibit commercial use; and some cannot deliver upload speeds that are sufficient for business use – problematic if you host a website or other online service, or use cloud backup. Although they cost more, designated business internet connections usually offer better value as they tend to include extra features and place greater emphasis on uptime, service and support.
Step 2: Find out which types of internet connection are available to you
Not all business internet connection types are available in all parts of the country. Your choices will probably include the following:
Supplied via a cable company, this popular type of connection is delivered over cable TV lines and will support a few dozen typical users at the same time.
Pros: A robust connection with speeds of 50 to 500 mbps for downloads and 2-10 mbps for uploads.
Cons: Connections share bandwidth with other users in the area so may be slower at peak times.
Supplied via a telecoms company and delivered through traditional telephone lines, DSL connections can usually support up to 12 concurrent users.
Pros: Low cost.
Cons: Speeds are limited to around 15 mbps for downloads and 1mbps for uploads. Performance depends on how far you are from the nearest telephone exchange.
Uses an external dish to bounce a signal off a satellite.
Pros: As there is no need for cables or wireless towers nearby, this is sometimes the only high speed connection available in rural areas.
Cons: Slow for business use, with download speeds reaching only 3-15 mbps.
This super-fast fibre optic connection is new and expensive, but high bandwidth potential means vastly superior download speeds.
Pros: Requires specialist equipment to be installed. There is no loss of signal in bad weather and fibre optic connectors are harder to hack into than copper wires. Delivers up to 1Gbps for downloads and 5-35 mbps for uploads.
Cons: The most expensive option. As a new technology, availability is limited by geographic location.
Fixed wireless also known as a wireless ethernet establishes a connection via radio signal. This type of service can be fairly fast, but the signal can be interrupted by adverse weather or by trees and buildings located between users and the wireless tower.
Old technology which is now considered far too slow for use as a business internet connection.
Step 3: Figure out what you’re paying for
ISP marketing is often price-focussed, but when you’re buying for business it’s even more important to read the small print. Prices quoted online tend to reflect the basic, entry-level package and are sometimes conditional on signing up for a minimum period – but be wary of committing for longer than two years as services, providers, technology and pricing change frequently in this market.
Most broadband providers will propose a Service Level Agreement (SLA) as part of their contract with business customers. The purpose of this document is to lay out rules stating how you may use their service, along with performance terms, uptime guarantees, technical support parameters, response time and compensation arrangements should the provider fail to meet the agreed service level. Comparing Service Level Agreements offered by the suppliers in your shortlist should help you decide which of them is right for your needs; it will also enable you to cost out each option in detail.
Things to look out for include:
- Data caps. What happens if you exceed a data cap? Will you service be altered in any way or will you incur additional charges?
- Restrictions. Are there any rules on hosting websites or other online services?
- Guaranteed uptime. Can your chosen service deliver the uptime that your operations require? What would happen in the event of an outage?
- Hardware charges. Does the contract include required hardware or is there an additional cost for it? Are there any installation or activation fees?
- Installation. What support is offered to help you set up – will you need to call on external IT professionals in order to get started?
- Ongoing technical support. Is support live or automated? How often is it available? Is there a dedicated resource for business customers and do the staff have experience with business networking and connectivity?
- Security. What type of security is provided and what is covered? Look for spam filtering and protection from viruses, spyware and malware, and check that mobile connections are covered if required.
- IP address type. If you need to host a website, mail servers, VPN, web conferencing or other online applications you will need a static IP address, so check if this is included. If not, a dynamic IP address (usually supplied as standard) is sufficient – these are easier to configure and harder for hackers to find.
A good ISP should act like a consultant, offering information and support to help you calculate your needs and make the right decision. Try to identify the providers that will continue to support you for the duration of your contract, so that you are free to focus on your strategic goals and business growth.
Some ISPs differentiate themselves with add-on services that complement their standard business internet connection, such as VoIP telephone systems, email, website hosting, cloud storage and data back-up. Bundling up some of these into a single package could save you a considerable amount of time, hassle and cost.
To learn more about how small businesses can benefit from working with managed service providers, or for further advice on how to select a business internet connection for your organisation, talk to the specialists at Telappliant on 0345 557 6100.