Today, a slow Internet connection or wholesale interruption of service will have a direct impact on your bottom line.
Ed Lieber is a staff writer for Small Business Trends. He is a journalist and marketing copywriter with 20 years of experience writing, editing and managing for print and digital vehicles.
Today, there are aspects of your business you can’t afford to fool around with.
You can — and should — experiment with a new advertising or marketing strategy, for example. You can tweak your company’s culture in order to create an enjoyable work atmosphere and provide work-life balance for yourself and your employees. But one area you must address with cold calculation is finding the right high-speed Internet provider. Today, a slow Internet connection or wholesale interruption of service will have a direct impact on your bottom line.
So consider, for a moment, the breadth of your company’s online needs and the wide ranging tasks you and your employees routinely perform on the Internet. The list may include data-heavy functions such as video conferencing, accessing cloud-based apps, streaming videos or downloading large files. Each of those high-demand activities taxes your bandwidth.
It is said that you need 5.0 megabits per second just to stream a single HD video. So if multiple users on your network are streaming videos, uploading large files and performing high-demand tasks concurrently, their need multiplies. If you have limited bandwidth, say a 20 megabit per second (Mbps) speed, you can see how quickly a few heavy demands can slow everything and everyone down.
Make no mistake, you need to find the best high-speed service available. Below are several options to explore.
This option is considered a cost-effective high-speed solution for small businesses as cable connections can run from 150 Mbps to 500 Mbps or higher generally. The cable company will connect your office via coaxial cables or a pairing of coaxial cables and fiber-optic cables (the latter is preferable).
If you can spend more for your high-speed Internet access, this is one of the swiftest Internet connections you can opt for. Fiber optic transmission is based on the speed of photons, which travel only 31 percent slower than the speed of light. Fiber optics can deliver Internet speeds of up to 1 Gbps. Furthermore, weather won’t interfere with your service (like it does with connections using copper). The drawback is that availability is limited due to the specially designed equipment required, including mirrored tubes.
With fixed wireless, Internet service is provided through a radio signal from a tower. Wireless Internet can reach speeds of up to 40 Mbps. However, speed can decrease based on the environment where you’re located. If there are lots of trees and buildings between your office and the tower, this may interfere and, at times, disrupt service.
With a DSL (digital subscriber line) connection, transmission of data varies from hundreds of kilobits per second to megabits. While it is certainly faster than near-extinct dial-up service (which uses your phone line to “dial up” the Internet), DSL is considered slow for today’s needs and this type of Internet service can also have limitations. The farther you are from the provider’s central office (CO), the slower your speed will be. And because access is delivered by your business’ phone line, should the line be damaged or interrupted you’ll lose your Internet connection.
Cellular 3G and 4G Networks
Most wireless devices now have built-in 3G and 4G access chips. This technology uses a cellular connection to access the Internet. As with WiFi, 3G and 4G technologies are great for mobile use but this type of service can be expensive for home Internet use. When it comes to small business use, this may be an impractical choice because phone companies charge based on per-gigabyte use of data and your service will cease once your monthly allotment is used.
With this type of system, your Internet signal will bounce off satellites to arrive to you. However, this system doesn’t require that cables or wireless towers be located within your proximity. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that satellite service can be slow compared to other high-speed Internet connections. Satellite speeds tend to range from 3 Mbps to 25 Mbps, much slower than, say, cable. But if you’re based in a rural region, this may be the only service available to you.
Questions to Ask Yourself
There are many considerations to keep in mind when choosing a provider and a package that will equip your business with the high-speed Internet service it requires.
- What’s available in my area?
In some places, especially remote areas, your options may be limited and you may have to choose from a limited assortment of providers, based on those available in your community. Finding out what your options are is the first step.
- Have you done your research?
It’s wise to do a bit of research on the level of customer service each provider offers. You want to make sure that when you find yourself in a pinch, your provider is going to have staff available to you at the hours you need it. Do some research and read customer reviews to get a feel for the level of service available from each provider.
- What business service plans are available?
Pricing options are generally based on variables such as speed levels, the number of users and devices, as well as how you intend to use the Internet on a daily basis. If your business is extensively involved with heavy online file sharing or if your company regularly transmits large files to the cloud, you’ll want to ensure you have adequate speed.
- Are there data caps?
Be on the lookout for any plan limits on the amount of data you can transmit. If you don’t gauge this right, your service may cease once you reach the data cap, or you may be charged overage fees.
- Do you need any special services or options?
Check into additional services, especially services you may not require now but could possibly need at some point in the future. Realistically assess your business’s growth trajectory. If possible, choose a provider capable of offering a flexible service that can grow in tandem with your business, seamlessly allowing you to upgrade and add services as your business needs them. If you’re an entrepreneur working from home, consider a business plan. In some cases, the ability to run a server and have a static IP address will require opting for business service over a residential connection.
- Have you considered installation options and costs?
You need to ensure that installation is done correctly and some providers offer full-scale networking options that will handle everything for you. This may be a viable option if the alternative is having to hire someone to manage your network.
- Have you looked at bundling options and overall price?
Bundled deals save you money. Whether you choose to outsource your network or use additional services such as a business phone system, you should keep an eye out for money-saving bundled packages. Keep in mind that you’re better off using the smallest number of providers possible because eventually you may need to contact them for assistance with some sort of issue.
- What about security?
Premium security is essential when choosing a provider. You want one capable of delivering service that includes anti-spam, anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-malware protection so ask what’s covered. For example, are your mobile connections protected? One other key issue is backup protection in case of a system crash. If you are still creating hard copies of files, or saving material on external hard drives, it’s time to consider cloud-based storage.
- What extras and limitations are there?
Do you need port access? If you intend on having a business server hosted in your office, be sure port access is freely available. Some providers limit access to certain ports required by software you may need to access. For example, a browser uses port 80 for downloading Web pages, and email clients such as Outlook use port 25 for sending emails and 110 to receive emails. If you have a special piece of software that uses a random port, like 2598, you will need to ensure that this port is not blocked or you will not be able to use that software.
Some ISPs have additional software applications available, sometimes through third parties at a special rate, and this might even include Web conferencing apps or cloud document and file storage.
- What information should be used to best determine the right high-speed Internet provider for you or your business?
With factors such as your location determining which ISPs are available to you, you are limited to some extent. The best way to find the right ISP is to consult with one to calculate your needs, most importantly how much bandwidth you need.
To determine this you need to analyze factors such as how many employees or concurrent users will need to tap into the Internet, which devices they’ll use, and how many different ways your employees will need to access the Internet.
You may want to consider the pros and cons of outsourcing your IT network rather than go through the time and effort of doing this yourself. There is the bigger picture to consider as well. If you have clients you visit — or who visit you — you need to be mindful of the impression you’ll make if you skimp on an ISP. For instance, you don’t want to be caught unable to access some data you stored on the cloud while a client is sitting beside you, right?
You also need to consider your expectations regarding staff productivity. A slow Internet connection will cost you money. Every minute an employee has to sit and wait on a Web-based application to load costs you money. You are paying them to wait — and you are falling behind in terms of whatever task they are waiting to perform. Productive workers are efficient workers and top performing employees want to accomplish as much as they can. When the tools they work with on a daily basis perform as needed, you and your business benefit. Increased production equals increased profits.
You need an Internet connection that doesn’t just handle your needs, but far exceeds them. One school of thought holds that you should have at least twice as much bandwidth as you require on average. The goal is to make certain you can handle full capacity, as well as those occasional spikes in usage.
Finding the right high-speed Internet service provider is one of the most important decisions a business owner will make. If you choose the wrong connection or decide to go with the less-expensive option, it could cost you a lot more in the long run.
Follow these guidelines to ensure you have all the bandwidth you need — and you’ll likely discover your decision will pay dividends as well.
This article was originally published on Small Business Trends.