Buyers’ Guide: Business broadband

Growing Business provides all the information you need to choose the right broadband package for your business


A fast, reliable internet connection is the lifeblood of modern business – not just for the plethora of young hip web-based firms springing up around London’s Silicon Roundabout, but for more conventional enterprises, from textile importers to biotech firms. The internet has become the bedrock of modern business communication.

Getting a high-speed internet connection installed is child’s play: there are scores of internet service providers (ISPs) that will hook your business up. But picking the right package entails unpicking a Gordian knot of subtly different packages on offer from a bewildering array of service providers. Nailing down what your business needs at the outset is essential.

For the most part, business owners will have a degree of freedom over which ISP to choose, but not all services are available everywhere. Some parts of the UK are well served with high-speed internet connections, other areas – particularly in rural areas – coverage can be patchy, and the costs of ultra-fast options may be prohibitive.

But when it comes to business broadband, download speeds – while important – aren’t everything. The services that surround your broadband package can make have as much impact when it comes to obtaining a silky smooth service and one that leaves you tearing your hair out

So when it comes to finding a broadband package that meets your business requirements, you’ll need to consider the following:

  • Speeds
  • Support
  • Data limits
  • Security
  • Contention rates
What you need

The single most important criteria when it comes to choosing a broadband provider is your company’s bandwidth requirements – how much data you are likely to download and upload each month, typically measured in Megabits per second (Mbps).

There’s no need to pin this down to an exact number at the outset, but it will make it easier to pick the right package if you know whether you are likely to be a heavy or light user of your broadband connection.

There are a number of factors that will determine your bandwidth requirements, such as the number of staff that will use the connection. The type of data being sent also has an impact: email traffic takes up miniscule amounts of bandwidth; voice calls or video files are more substantial.

For companies that expect to be light users, a so-called ADSL connection – similar to having another telephone line installed – may be more than sufficient. Heavy users may find that they need a dedicated line installed, perhaps even a fibre optic cable. In most circumstances, business leaders will have a full range of choices over what type of broadband service they want – ADSL connections are available at 99% of UK premises today. However those in rural areas can find choices limited – in such cases, it may be necessary to look at satellite providers.

Nevertheless, most businesses will be faced with a variety of ISPs that can provide them with the basics of a service that meets their needs – so how to choose between them?

Speeds

Most ISPs will quote network speeds at the maximum theoretical their system can provide. The higher the Mbps, the faster your internet connection. It’s a useful base level for comparing services, but it bares little relation to the speed of the internet connection your employees will experience.

The actual download and upload speeds your staff will experience will depend several factors. If you’re on an ADSL service, the distances between your premises and the telephone exchange will affect your connection.

The speed of your business’s internet will also be affected by factors outside of your business – namely the number of other users that tap into the same local cables. ISPs refer to this as the contention rate. A business broadband package would typically offer between 20:1 and 50:1 contention rates – meaning between 20 and 50 other premises could use the same network infrastructure. But as with most elements of a broadband package, if you’re willing to pay a little more, you can get lines of which your business is the only user.

Most broadband services are sold on the basis of download speeds, but for some businesses upload speeds are equally important. These dictate how quickly for can transfer data out of your business – for example if you want to upload large files on to the corporate website. Upload speeds are also important if your staff will being using internet telephony or spend a large chunk of the working week connecting to the office away from the premises.

Upload speeds vary enormously, depending on the type of broadband connection you have. With ADSL services, the upload speeds are significantly lower than download speeds. For businesses that need fast upload speeds, one option is to look for a SDSL service, where upload and download speeds are the same. A 2Mbps SDSL service from Eclipse will set you back £225 a month.

Another option starting to become available is an Ethernet First Mile service – communication company Interncity has begun offering EFM capable of delivering 10 times the connection speeds of SDSL at an equivalent price. This technology, however, depends on upgrades that are being made to BT’s core network. As a result, it EFM may not be available everywhere yet.

Support

A working internet connection is critical to the smooth running of a modern business – especially as internet-based telephony becomes an increasingly common option to lower communication costs. As a result, it’s imperative that your ISP can deliver top-class support on those occasions when your connection goes down.

Typically, a business broadband package will include a higher level of support than consumer services. But not all ISPs offer the same level of support.

For example, should check out whether your ISP offers 24/7 support or only during office hours. If your internet connection is absolutely business-critical, you may want to consider looking for a deal that includes an account manager – you will pay more, but having a known contact at your ISP can help get issues resolved far quicker than having to go through a call centre.

When evaluating whether the ISP’s support service meets your needs, you should check whether your call would be prioritised. Some ISPs will also guarantee to resolve issues within a fixed time.

Whatever level of support you decide meets your needs, it is still worth calling the support line prior to signing up. This will give you a good idea how quickly you’re likely to get through if and when you have a problem.

Limits

Many of the cheapest broadband deals will place limits on the your businesses internet usage. For example, BT’s basic business broadband package limits customers to 10GB of data per month. That’s more than enough for a small business, where staff do little more than send emails and browse the internet.

But many firms would quickly exhaust their data allowance. In these cases it makes far more sense to pay a little extra for a higher – or even no – limit, rather than get stung by the punitive penalty charges.

Essential extras

Once your business has an internet connection, you’ll need a way to connect your employees’ computers. Frequently, ISPs will provide customers with a router for this job. However, you’ll need to consider whether this convenience delivers good value for your firm.

Typically, the less you spend on your connection, the cheaper the router you’ll be given. A decent router can cost as little as £100 but make the difference between a slick, reliable internet connection and a flaky one. If you do decide to buy your own router, do check it’s compatible with your broadband service.

Computer security is essential for any business that goes online. If your internet connection is not properly secured, your computers – and your businesses sensitive data – are at risk from cyber crooks and hackers.

These days, nearly all broadband packages come with added security features, such as anti-virus software, or firewalls. In some cases you can find you don’t have enough security licences to cover your staff – especially as your business grows – and have to buy more. That could make buying your own security software cheaper.

One feature that sets business broadband packages apart from consumer deals is the provision of static IP addresses. Having a static IP address allows staff to access corporate systems when not in the office.

Market share

According to the UK’s communication regulator, by the end of 2010 there were 19.4m broadband connections to homes and small businesses. The provider that dominates the market is BT, accounting for 28% of the market. Meanwhile, Virgin Media’s cable business has around 20%, although Ofcom doesn’t break down the figures further.

Nevertheless, the other major ISPs include TalkTalk, Sky, Orange, Plusnet and O2, but not all of these offer business packages.

How to buy

One of the easiest ways to identify which broadband package will best suit your business is through comparison websites, such as Moneysupermarket.com or Broadband-finder.co.uk.

These sites will give you a handy way to evaluate packages and if you’re happy with a regular service should be fine. But if you think your business needs a premium-level service, it is worth negotiating your deal directly with the providers.

Entry-level broadband

Plusnet will give you up to a 20Mbps connection, depending on your location, with a free wireless router and upload speeds of 1Mbps for just £10 per month, although there is a 10GB monthly data limit.

Mid-level broadband

BT’s Advance Support Broadband can cost as little as £25 per month, for which your firm will get up to 20Mbps connection, no monthly limit on usage and 24/7 IT support.

High-end broadband

Demon’s ADSL2+ Assured Rates service promises speeds of up to 20Mbps and no usage restrictions. For £30 per month you’ll get UK-based technical support, prioritised business traffic and a promise to resolve issues within 48 hours.

 

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