A complete guide to broadband solutions for small businesses

Need broadband for your small business? Here’s a compete guide to help you choose the right solution.

Whether you’re a startup or more established organisation, being connected is a core requirement of any business. It doesn’t matter if you’re an artisan brewer or digital designer, having a fast, stable connection to the wider world is essential.

You need it for keeping up with emails, using social media, maintaining your website, dispatching orders or using cloud applications, to name just a few uses of broadband.

Selecting business broadband is different to buying home broadband. Where you would go for the cheapest price, fastest speed and most generous data caps, business requirements are different.

While price is a factor, Jamie Kavanagh from Broadband Genie explains why service quality, reliability and features are often more important than anything else.

Why a reliable business broadband is important

Speed is often the headline for many broadband providers. With a business connection, more weight should be given to reliability, customer service, SLAs, traffic prioritization and security.

It’s annoying enough when your home broadband goes down but consider how losing internet access could impact your business. No emails, no cloud applications, no cloud backups, no internet access, no VoIP and no connectivity. Even the smallest business won’t last long without that!

The simple fact of the matter is that if a business is not contactable or cannot answer emails or order requests quickly, there are plenty of businesses that will. That’s why reliability is so important.

Home broadband vs business broadband deals

Home broadband is mainly about speed, price and data caps. We also have to contend with the infamous ‘up to’ speed claims, traffic management and often limited customer support.

You’re fine if you’re a light user who would only need help between the hours of 8am and 6pm but as businesses depend on being connected, home broadband isn’t enough.

Five reasons why you should choose business broadband

There are five compelling reasons why businesses should invest in business broadband over home broadband.

1) Reliability

While reliability may be vendor dependent, on the whole a business broadband connection will be better maintained, receive faster maintenance and priority fault resolution. As businesses pay more, vendors tend to look after them more than residential customers.

2) Speed

Business broadband is not sold on speed with the same emphasis as home broadband. You should not see the ‘up to’ speed promise very often either.

Business broadband speeds are marketed much more accurately and the provider is much more careful to make sure it can deliver those promised speeds. Business customers tend to be much more savvy and far more likely to complain or make a claim against substandard internet speeds.

3) Customer support

Residential broadband customer support is usually daytimes during the week. That’s fine if you work those hours or don’t mind waiting in a call queue for ages.

Business customers will usually receive dedicated support from higher trained staff who can often resolve your issue at first touch. This is a much less frustrating experience and is worth the extra cost on its own!

4) SLAs

Residential broadband is usually supported on a ‘best effort’ basis. This means the provider must make every reasonable effort to ensure your service is reliable and resolve any issues within a reasonable period of time. Unfortunately, some providers idea of reasonable does not match with ours.

Business broadband will have specific SLAs that will outline a maximum response time, an expected time for an engineer if one is necessary and any compensation due for outages. It’s a much clearer and much more responsive system than residential customers have to contend with.

5) Traffic management

Business broadband customers receive traffic prioritisation over residential customers. Again, business customers spend more and expect more so the provider tries to deliver more. Residential customers may be subject to traffic controls at peak times or have certain traffic types restricted such as bit torrent.

Business customers have no such limitations and your traffic should reach its destination in good time whatever time of day or type of traffic it is.

Other important features of business broadband

There are other benefits of business broadband over residential for startups and the SMB.

1) Static IP addresses

If you host your own website, use VoIP or video conferencing, use cloud CCTV, remote desktop, remote backups or other intensive web app, having a static IP address is a benefit. Rather than using a dynamic IP that changes regularly, a static IP address means you can configure your applications to make best use of your connection.

2) Business tech support

I touched on higher trained customer support earlier, but this is important enough to expand. Where residential customer services are trained to perform simple tasks on the call, they are also trained to raise calls with other teams for more technical matters.

Typically, business customer support can handle more complex tasks and a much wider range of faults, requests and changes on that first call.

3) Security

Some business broadband products will come with antivirus, firewall, phishing and hacking protection and other cyber security solutions. They often come at a cost but if you don’t have your own tech support or IT person, they can offer extra security with zero maintenance. They should not be relied on as your sole protection though.

4) Extra features

It’s often easy to forget most business broadband packages come with a landline. Even if you don’t use it, having a landline is a useful backup and another way for customers to get in touch. Even if you use it to forward a number to your unified communications solution or call centre, it’s useful to have.

Other nice to have features that can come with business broadband include VPNs, VoIP or HD video conferencing, cloud backup solutions and call forwarding.

Choosing the right broadband solution

There are five main broadband technology options to choose from. Each offers something different and has strengths and weaknesses.

1) ADSL

ADSL, Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Lines are your typical non-fibre internet connection. It is usually provided by BT Openreach either directly or via a reseller. It uses the copper phone lines into a premises and uses compression technology to offer a decent level of speed if you’re close to a telephone exchange.

2) FTTC fibre

FTTC, Fibre To The Cabinet is a hybrid of fibre and copper. It uses fibre optic cable all the way from the provider network to your green street cabinet and then uses copper telephone wires to your property. It’s a popular solution as it enables the vendor to upgrade their network without having to replace millions of miles of copper cable. That final leg does slow your speed down though.

3) FTTP fibre

FTTP, Fibre To The Premises is a full fibre connection. This is mainly available in urban areas or new rural developments where a provider will lay fibre optic cable all the way into the building. This offers the fastest speeds but availability is limited to towns, cities or new developments. Read Broadband Genie’s guide to FTTC and FTTP connections for more information.

4) Virgin Media fibre

Virgin Media fibre uses a similar technology to FTTC or FTTP depending on where in the country you are. Virgin’s FTTC has the advantage of using coaxial connections for the final leg which is much faster than BT’s copper lines. The disadvantage is availability is limited to Virgin Media areas.

5) 4G broadband

4G broadband uses the mobile network to provide a broadband connection. This is often used as a backup solution for businesses who cannot justify a fallback FTTC connection or for businesses without a fast fixed line connection such as in rural areas or those not in a cabled area. It offers a viable alternative to fixed line connections but is often more expensive and typically comes with data caps.

Business broadband in rural areas

If you’re running a business outside our towns and cities, you will already likely be all too aware of how slow fixed line broadband can be. A combination of distance from an exchange, lack of investment, poor potential for return on investment and other factors means rural areas are not best served by broadband.

You do have options though. Solutions such as 4G broadband, satellite broadband, community fibre schemes, community wireless and other innovations offer connectivity options in various rural communities across the country.

Business broadband security

Whatever the size of your business, you need to protect it so security is of paramount importance. You need to take the same precautions you would at home, only business-sized. That means business firewall, antivirus, malware and phishing scanners and  backup solutions.

Some of these can be provided by your broadband provider but it would also be sensible to use your own solutions.

Options such as business-class routers with built-in firewalls, Cisco AWS solutions and cloud antivirus are all viable options for small to medium sized businesses. Defence in depth is the aim of the game here so the more robust your defences, the more protected you are.

Photo by Bernard Hermant