It is now widely acknowledged and accepted that every modern business – from the SME to the multinational, and from the web developer to the wine seller – needs a reliable and speedy Internet connection to stay afloat. Whether it simply be sending emails and surfing the Net, or connecting to clients in London over Skype, connectivity has become an essential business commodity.
Parallel to the demand for connectivity, however, an ever-widening range of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and solutions has emerged – which has made it extremely difficult and often confusing for business leaders to find the right connectivity solution for their needs. Every business has a unique set of connectivity requirements, and contrary to what many ISPs propose, there is certainly no one-size-fits-all solution. As a result, it is absolutely critical that business leaders understand each solution offered to them and can make decisions from an educated and discerning place.
To simplify matters, here are five key points to consider when deciding on the connectivity solution for your SME:
1. Understand What Broadband Really Means
With any type of broadband offering, the critical point to grasp is that it will be what is termed a ‘best effort service.’ This means that the ISP cannot provide a Service Level Agreement that will guarantee performance and throughput over the network. So if you have paid for a 100Mbps line, and there is contention over the network (i.e. it’s overloaded), then chances are you will be getting a small percentage of the upload and download performance that you were hoping for.
For the business, and particularly as an SME, there is little recourse when a broadband solution underperforms – which it often does. When clients are requiring Voice over Internet capabilities, ensure that your service provider does not route VOIP traffic over the Internet, but rather provide you with a separate VLAN (a separate highway, so to speak) to route VOIP traffic over this highway as opposed to the internet which results in poor voice quality.
2. Talk About Contention
Before you agree on a solution and sign on the dotted line, it’s important that you understand contention (or the volume of traffic) on the line. So, being clear on what the throughput speed is that you are guaranteed on that link.
In most cases broadband solutions are sold with levels of contention such as 1:4 (four businesses sharing the same data capacity) or 1:10 (ten businesses sharing the same data capacity).
The impact? On a 10 Meg link with a 1:10 contention, customers can expect to get speeds of 1 Meg upload and download because of the contention ratios applied by the service provider.
3. When things go wrong
When it comes to connectivity, chances are that something will go wrong at some point. An undersea cable will be damaged, a tower will go down, and a fibre connection will fail.
As a business owner, it is critical to understand exactly what recourse you have, and if the ISP is equipped to adequately handle these events.
Do they have a call centre that operates 24/7, 7 days a week? Are there punitive measures in place should the link be down for hours or days? Is a 99% uptime which equates to 7 hours of downtime per month acceptable for your business?
On paper, 99% uptime sounds great, but if your business can ill afford 7 hours downtime, look for a solution with a higher uptime percentage.
4. Avoid Long Term Contracts
Driven by market forces, the cost of bandwidth is coming down by as much as 30% every six to eight months. Which is normal, given that connectivity has become such an essential commodity. For businesses, it is therefore self-defeating to sign a contract for any longer than 12 or 24 months – because you will be locked into the price and unable to reap the benefits when the cost of bandwidth drops in a year’s time. Despite this fact, ISPs still seek to sign businesses onto three-year contracts – a move which is certainly not in the interests of any savvy business owner.
5. Work with a Provider that Gets Your Business
Every business has a unique set of connectivity needs.
Some businesses simply need to send emails reliably, while others need to be able to upload monstrous files quickly. Advertising and design agencies, for example, need to be able to quickly upload and download big files for their clients. It is so important that you work with either an ISP or a third party expert to ensure that you get a solution that caters for these needs.
Too often, businesses are paying for features they simply don’t need, while their core requirements go unfulfilled.
By Louis Jardim