Small business guide to Internet connections

Written by Steve Voller on 6th December 2016
Backup, D.R & Business Continuity

We have all got used to high-speed Internet either at home or in our workplace and its now considered essential to most companies, large or small. In this article, I would like to cover some of the technologies and their key differences along with some tips on using the Internet.

 

Hints, tips, and facts.

Make the most of what you have.

Before you consider upgrading, make sure you are not wasting your precious bandwidth on your connection. Don’t let employees run Internet radio, tv, videos unless you need it. Turn off non-business services such as news services and schedule the download of software updates for quiet times of the day.

 

Software update issues.

Many software applications update over the Internet, this can cause problems so keep an eye on them. We have seen issues with applications constantly downloading the same update and when you multiply this across all your workstations it can have a significant impact.

 

Fibre Broadband.

This is not a fibre optic cable into your home or office in 99% of cases. This means that you are connected to the local green box in the street using traditional cables and then that green box has a fibre optic cable back to the exchange.

 

Reboot your router to clear line issues.

With broadband services we always recommend that customers try a quick reboot to solve outages and if that fails leave the router off for 20 minutes to reset the line.

 

Mobile data connections.

Mobile phone networks can provide high-speed data but at a cost. They are good for emergencies when cost is not as critical getting access to the Internet. 4G routers are readily available and easy to implement. They are best used to provide outbound connections to the Internet.

 

Connection types.

 Most companies that we deal with at MDI will have one of the following types of Internet connection, I have listed them in order of popularity. I will give a brief explanation of each from a non-technical perspective and highlight any pros and cons.

 

  • Fibre broadband             
    • Fibre optic cable to the green box in the street, then telephone cables to the property. Fast and relatively low cost but a shared service connection without any guaranteed service.
  • ADSL broadband             
    • Telephone cables from the exchange to the property. Slow by modern standards, readily available in most locations  and  low cost but a shared service connection without any guaranteed service.
  • Leased Line                        
    • Fibre optic cable all the to the property. Guaranteed service, ultra-reliable service dedicated to the customer but higher cost. A true business grade service for customers that rely on the Internet.
  • Cable Broadband            
    • Copper cable to the property. High speed and fairly low cost but too restrictive for companies that do more than surf the web. No service guarantees.
  • Radio Broadband            
    • Wireless radio link. Useful when there are no other options for high speed connections, but medium cost and requires line of site between the base station and office.

 

What's important ?

So what are the important considerations for most customers? I have listed them below in the order that many companies compare the features by.

  • Cost. Typically based upon installation cost and monthly rental
  • Speed. In most cases, we look at the upload and download speeds as well as congestion and the number of companies sharing a connection. Does the performance of the connection change and fluctuate or is it guaranteed and stable?
  • Reliability and Service Level. Is it possible to get a service level agreement (SLA) ? How long will the provider take to fix a fault?

 

What's really important ?

However, the order we look at them depends on our business and the services that we need, what we are really interested in is the suitability. All 3 items are important but does the technology fit my companies needs ?

 The problem is that many companies underestimate the importance of suitability and reliability and put the cost as the most important factor. It's not that cost shouldn’t be considered, but how useful is a connection when it doesn’t fit the purpose or if it's not working. How much productivity do we lose, what is the cost to the business for downtime ?

  • Reliability and Service Level.
    • Is it possible to get a service level agreement ? Most fibre and cable services don’t offer any service levels. If the line fails the provider will do their best but you just have to wait until its working again. If that’s not good enough for you, don’t go for this type of service. Leased lines and EFM will have a quoted SLA, this will provide a set of timescales the provider will work to in the event of a failure. Another consideration is the frequency of faults and length of any outages. Circuits with an SLA rarely go wrong and often do not need to be reset.
  • Speed.
    • In most cases, we look at the upload and download speeds as well as congestion. This speed is important as we need a connection fast enough to transmit our data or fit our remote workers into. But in many technologies, this speed can fluctuate and the quoted speeds on broadband and cable can change drastically during the day.
    • Contention and congestion may include how many different companies are sharing the connection and how busy the connections are. An example of this the 20:1 ratio on business broadband and fibre lines which means that many of these lines do not achieve the quoted speeds when we most need it.
    • Don’t be fooled into thinking that download speed is everything, we often get asked why we should buy a leased line when a cable and fibre connection is soo much cheaper and quote very high speeds.
    • Look at the sources of data coming in and out of your company Internet connection. If you have a lot if remote workers then you need to consider different types of connections to the companies that just browse the web.
  • Cost.
    • Typically based upon installation cost and monthly rental. Consider the contract length and any caveats, leased lines are often quoted in 3-year contracts due to the high installation costs. These 3-year contracts normally allow for the installation cost to be waived, but if you move in that contract period then you could have a large bill to move the line.
    • Broadband and cable services typically offer the lowest cost services, if all we need is basic Internet and we don’t need the delivery guaranteed then this is a good option. They can also be purchased on a monthly contract if a short term solution is required.

 

 

Comparison of performance and features.

 

Fibre Broadband (FTTC)

Cost/month: £20-£80

Upload Speed: Up to 20Mbps

Download Speed: Up to 80Mbps

Suitability: Small companies with non-critical systems, but there is no SLA. Ok for low numbers of remote workers.

Reliability and Service: There is no SLA.

Performance: Fluctuates and can suffer from congestion

Notes: Line cannot upload and download simultaneously

 

ADSL Broadband

Cost/month: £15-£60

Upload Speed: Up to 1Mbps

Download Speed: Up to 20Mbps

Suitability: Small companies where there is no Fibre broadband with non-critical systems. Not great for remote workers.

Reliability and Service: There is no SLA.

Performance: Fluctuates and can suffer from congestion

Notes: Line cannot upload and download simultaneously

 

Cable 

Cost/month: £20-£100

Upload Speed: Up to 20Mbps

Download Speed: Up to 300Mbps

Suitability: Small companies, where download speed is the biggest requirement and there are no critical services.

Reliability and Service: There is no SLA.

Performance: Fluctuates and can suffer from congestion

Notes: This service is not easy to configure when a company wants its own firewall or equipment. Cable modems are quite proprietary and not easily replaced with customer owned equipment.

 

Leased Line 

Cost/month: £250 for 10Mbps, £350 for 30Mbps

Upload Speed: No limit, based on cost, most small companies will rent 10-30Mbps

Download Speed: Same as upload speed

Suitability: Small to large companies where the Internet is relied upon.

Reliability and Service: Fixed SLA’s typically 6 hours for fault resolution. Most reliable service.

Performance: Performance typically does not fluctuate and remains constant.

Notes: Line can upload and download simultaneously. Most small companies would start with 10/20Mbps running on a line capable of going up to 100Mbps.

 

Radio Link

Cost/month: £100+ (20Mbps for £200-£250)

Upload Speed: Typically up to 1Gbps

Download Speed: Same as upload speed

Suitability: Small to medium companies where the Internet connectivity options are very limited.

Reliability and Service: Fixed SLA’s typically 6 hours for fault resolution.

Performance: Performance can fluctuate depending on weather.

Notes: Line can upload and download simultaneously, a line of sight is required between the office and the base station run by the provider.




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