Don’t rush into expensive options
If you call BT and start talking about business requirements for a solid and reliable office broadband connection then before you know it they will be telling you about ‘leased line’ options and quoting you hundreds of pounds a month.
Take a deep breath, pause and hang up the phone.
Before diving into an expensive and high spec option consider your needs. Do you need high upload speeds? Unless you are running web servers in your office then that answer is probably no.
If you are an average small business then chances are you just need a connection that doesn’t drop out when you most need it and can support multiple users at the same time carrying out basic day-to-day tasks online. For this, standard broadband connections should be just fine.
All providers are not equal
The first thing to realise is that all providers (known as ‘Internet Service Providers’ or ‘ISPs’) are not made equal.
The second thing to realise is that just because BT run the basic infrastructure on which most of the country’s broadband is based does not mean they are the best provider (in general the opposite is true).
I will leave you to make up your own mind on service provider but would recommend that you do your homework and check out reviews for the different providers as well as reviewing their costs.
DSL vs Cable vs Fibre Optic
DSL (Digital Subsciber Line) is a technology that allows standard copper telephone lines to transmit data at a much higher rate than its predecessor the 56Mbps modem. However, some offices and households have other cables running to them and using these can open up higher speed internet. Both Cable and Fibre Optic cables can carry much more data and therefore deliver faster internet connections.
Most businesses can now access what is termed ‘superfast’ broadband, or VDSL. This take advantage of the fact that BT has upgraded much of its network of cabinets to be connected to their local exchange using fibre optic cables. As a result only the last leg of the journey, from cabinet to office, goes over older copper cables.
If your office has access to cable or can afford a dedicated fibre optic connection right to the door then this will be your fastest and most robust option. However, don’t worry too much as many small businesses run very well on standard DSL connections and VDSL should more than suffice for offices up to 30 people or even more.
Choosing a router
Whichever ISP you choose they will probably send you a free router. Some (e.g. Talk Talk) will make you pay. These routers are not necessarily good routers and if you are wanting a reliable connection then you may wish to consider upgrading this important bit of kit.
Modems vs. routers
Put simply, the modem takes the signals flowing forward and back through the telephone line and decodes this into something we tend to describe as an internet connection. If you plug your computer straight into a modem with a network cable the you can (if its set up properly) use the internet.
A router is something entirely different. In fitting with the name, this bit of kit is about directing and co-ordinating the transmission of data. Routers allow the internet connection to be effectively split and shared around multiple computers. Standard routers do this through wires and wireless routers do this – yes, you guessed it – through the air.
Back-up connections and load balancing
If you have used a broadband connection much then you have probably experienced a broadband connection drop out and stop working. If you have any office of 20 working on this line then it can be seriously damaging to productivity and therefore your business.
The simplest way around this is to get a ‘dual WAN router’. This kind of router allows you to connect to internet connections to one router (obviously you need to have two separate internet connections to make this useful!). The router then continuously monitors both lines and if one drops out then it routes all of the internet traffic to the other connection. For the 20 people in your office this is great because it means they experience no loss of connection.
Some routers also have load balancing, which takes this a stage further and intelligently shares out the internet demands between the two connections available.
Once a business gets to a certain size then it may start to be appropriate to consider leased lines. This gives you a guaranteed direct line to the exchange and therefore allows you guaranteed upload and download speeds that should be extremely reliable. This does come at a cost though, so it’s worth tweaking your standard broadband connections first to ensure you are getting the most out of them!