Procurement 18 August 2015

Business broadband: The options out there and how to improve connectivity in rural locations

They may be scenic but rural places can be particularly hard to reach – meaning businesses struggle with  broadband options
They may be scenic, but rural places can be particularly hard to reach – meaning businesses struggle with broadband options

Matt Powell of broadband comparison website BroadbandGenie.co.uk provides a guide to what’s available for micro businesses when it comes to broadband – including how to improve your options if you’re based in a remote area.

Modern business is heavily reliant on the internet. But as the demands we place on our connections increases it’s important to ensure you’ve got a broadband connection that’s up to the job. The good news is that there are many options for business broadband at prices that make it affordable for sole traders and home workers.

How to choose a business broadband package

What’s on offer? Broadband coverage varies across the UK so your first step to getting the ideal business broadband connection is to check what services are available in your area.

There’s a few ways to do this. Any ISP will be able to tell you if they can supply a service, though if you’ve not yet decided on a provider that doesn’t give you the whole picture.

At Broadband Genie we have a postcode check tool which can quickly provide an overview of possible broadband options based on your location. And for a more detailed look the broadband tools at SamKnows.com will give a comprehensive breakdown of the types of connections at any exchange in the country.

Download and upload speeds

When it comes to download speeds you’ll be limited to a maximum 17Mb for an ADSL service, 76Mb for a BT Openreach fibre connection or 152Mb for Virgin Media cable. In some areas there’s also the choice of next-gen Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) providing an incredible 1Gb.

Depending on the size of your business you may find that up to 17Mb is perfectly sufficient, but if you add in the demands of a few staff members on top of whatever your business needs this older standard could become quickly overwhelmed.

Upload speed is very important too and it’s here the more advanced technology may be a necessity. ADSL services are limited when it comes to upload – usually a maximum of 1Mb for a single line – and if you need to send large amounts of data on a regular basis you may find this to be excessively sluggish. Fibre optic or cable is much better, usually managing 10-20Mb.

Support

Support and customer services are a major cause of complaint for home broadband, and when it comes to business this is a critical area as downtime could mean financial losses.

Before signing up with a provider check what kind of support they offer business customers. This is particularly important if you expect 24-hour help or may have more specialist support requirements.

Do you need specialist business broadband?

Many business broadband packages are using the same technology as a home broadband service, with certain aspects geared toward business users. But there are also different types of broadband technology which are intended exclusively for businesses and come with more advanced features and support.

Leased lines provide a guaranteed speed and service uptime and great deal more flexibility than regular connections. They be customised to focus on a particular task such as VOIP calling or uploading, and will come with a service level agreement where lengthy downtime may be compensated.

The cost of a leased line service can be very high so it’s definitely not for every business, but if your connection is mission critical the reliability and performance may be worth paying for.

More affordable are alternative ADSL services. Bonded ADSL combines multiple lines in one to give the impression of a single fast connection. Another variant of ADSL is Annex-M, where upload speed can be increased by reducing the download rate.

These types of services do not tend to come with an SLA, but you can expect a higher level of support. And because it is using ADSL they can be helpful for premises that are not yet covered by fibre optic or cable broadband.

Options for rural business broadband

Rural businesses may find that their choices are very limited. Although ADSL should be available to most it may be limited to a maximum 8Mb, and actual performance could be very low if you’re far from the exchange.

This can be a serious problem for organisations in remote areas, and upgrades could be years away.

But there are some solutions available right now to improve connectivity in rural locations.

Satellite broadband is a very interesting proposition as it does not require any kind of fixed line connection, can work just about anywhere and offers a decent performance. Mainstream satellite broadband can now reach speeds of 22Mb down and 6Mb up, and the prices are fairly affordable. In fact aside from the higher setup fees they compare quite favourably to the running costs of a fixed line service.

The major downside of satellite is the high latency, which can impact applications like VOIP and remote desktop, but it still offers a very attractive alternative for businesses limited to slow ADSL.

Mobile broadband may also come to the rescue of neglected rural firms. While it does mean you’ll need to have a good mobile signal, network coverage is improving and because this is another service that doesn’t need a physical line run to each building it is easier for providers to cover a wide area. If you have a signal even 3G mobile broadband can offer speeds far in excess of an ADSL service.

Other options may be open to rural businesses, such as community-driven fibre optic broadband projects like Gigaclear. And you could apply for a Connection Voucher to go toward the installation costs.

What is the Connection Voucher Scheme?

To encourage businesses to improve their broadband the government has allocated money to a grant scheme. The Connection Voucher covers the cost of installing a new broadband service up to the value of £3,000 and it’s an option that’s open to many different businesses right across the UK.

More details can be found in this detailed guide to the initiative, but it’s presently run in 50 different locations. In order to claim your voucher you’ll need to be based primarily in one of these areas, will need to be able to sign up for a service that’s faster than your current connection and you must be a small to medium organisation. The scheme does cover home workers so long as your home is your main business address.

To get involved you simply need to apply on the Connection Voucher web site. If you’re accepted onto the programme there are more than 600 ISPs to choose from so there’s a great deal of flexibility for choosing a great new broadband service using many different types of technology.

Any business looking to give their broadband a boost should take the time to investigate whether the Connection Voucher is something they could benefit from. It doesn’t take long to apply and could save up to £3,000.

Matt Powell editor of broadband, TV and mobile internet comparison website BroadbandGenie.co.uk.

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