What’s the difference between shared and dedicated internet access?

When you’re choosing a broadband connection for your small business, the first fundamental choice you’ll make is whether to go for shared or dedicated internet access. These terms refer to the nature of the connection itself, rather than how it is delivered.

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In this post, we’ll explain the difference between the two options and consider the reasons why you might pick one over the other.

Shared Internet Access (SIA)

The theory behind shared internet access (SIA) is that users of a service share facilities in order to save money. This is the typical residential broadband model, whereby a number of consumers access an internet connection and the cost of that connection is shared between them.

In their marketing activities, SIA providers use bandwidth speeds to attract new customers – but these advertised speeds are often the maximum possible (look out for phrases like “up to 10 Mbps…”). Because access is shared, available bandwidth is split between all concurrent users; providers bank on the fact that not everyone will be uploading or downloading large files, streaming video or web conferencing at the same time – but in reality bandwidth speed depends on what the user population is doing as a whole. If a large number of other customers are using their connection at the same time as you, the speed you experience will be slower.

This model works for residential broadband because consumers are rarely engaged in ‘critical’ online activities. They might experience a jittery VoIP calls, video content breaking up or difficulty accessing their favourite websites – but for most this is worth putting up with in return for low-cost internet access.

Although it is cheap, this type of connection could turn out to be false economy for business customers. You’ll need to examine whether or not your operations could cope with a service that varies in performance from minute to minute, or with network issues that occur when there are ‘too many’ simultaneous users. Some companies get around this by over-purchasing bandwidth (i.e. buying more than they need) in order to account for slow-downs during peak usage periods, but the unpredictable performance levels that go hand-in-hand with SIA could end up frustrating your staff and impacting on productivity.

The level of technical support offered with shared internet access also tends to be inadequate for business users. Contracts are usually delivered and managed on a ‘best effort’ basis, meaning that your ISP will try their hardest to provide a smooth service, but won’t offer guarantees on performance, nor on response time in the event of an outage. If your organisation needs a reliable, consistent internet connection in order to perform business critical operations, dedicated internet access (DIA) might be a safer bet.

Dedicated Internet Access (DIA)

Dedicated internet access (DIA) agreements establish a private connection between an ISP and the customer’s premises. This means that the bandwidth you purchase is for your use only; there are no other users sharing the connection so the speed advertised is (usually) the speed you get.

DIA services also tend to be symmetrical, meaning that they provide the same upload speed as download speed. This is an important consideration if you transfer files in both directions, use remote office connections, access cloud services (including a VoIP telephone system) or use video conferencing; most SIA services offer inferior upload speeds that can have a dire effect on productivity. With DIA there are rarely any such limitations, so your network can perform continuous file transfers (e.g. remote data backup), stream audio and video more smoothly, and deliver reliable cloud connectivity.

As you’d expect, dedicated internet access is more expensive than shared internet access, because a single customer bears the entire cost of their connection. Whilst many start-ups and small businesses are unable to commit to this level of spend in the early days, for some it’s a no-brainer: they’re ensuring reliable and consistent bandwidth speeds, guaranteed uptime, maximum productivity and prioritised technical support, delivered by a business-focussed account management team and backed up with a robust service level agreement. Compared with the alternative, DIA is a worthwhile investment if funds allow.

Next steps

Once you’ve made your decision on the SIA/DIA question, the next step is to think about how that service is delivered to your premises.

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