Business Internet Connectivity & Connection Vouchers

Karl Alderton, Comms Supply

Whether you call it broadband, internet connectivity or simply ‘getting online’, there are many different options available to your business to ensure you stay connected.

All businesses, big and small, are becoming more reliant on an internet connection to the rest of the world.  Whether you use services like Microsoft 365 for your email or a hosted solution for your phone calls, there are lots of options for your business.

We understand with so many options available to your business – and a raft of confusing acronyms to decipher - it can be hard to select the most appropriate solution.  To help you make an informed decision we have put together a quick knowledge guide to the world of internet connectivity.

With the Connection Voucher Scheme coming to Norwich and Ipswich, there is a great opportunity for businesses in our region to take advantage of the funding available and improved internet connectivity.

Key Terms

Here are some of the key terms you will hear when talking about internet connectivity.

Download and upload speed

Download and upload speeds refer to the fastest speed your internet connection can achieve when downloading or uploading data at any point in time.

For example, download is used when you are receiving an email and upload refers to sending an email.

Download and upload speeds are not the only key factors in the ‘speed’ of your service. Other issues like latency (see below) impact the service you receive.

Latency

Put simply, latency refers to the time it takes for information to get from your PC to its destination and back.

Think about accessing Google. Once you have typed www.google.co.uk into your browser and hit enter (go), the timer starts. The Google webpage is very basic and does not have a lot of information on it, therefore it doesn’t need to download a lot of data so shouldn’t take long. But the speed in which it loads on your screen depends on the latency of your service.

You can very easily test latency on your PC. On Windows, go to the start button, then where it says ‘search programmes and files’, type cmd and press enter.

A black box will appear. type ping www.google.co.uk , look for the average MS and this is your latency, the average time it took for your PC to send a request to Google and Google to respond back to you.

Latency is a key factor in the ‘speed’ of your service.

Uncontended or contended/shared service

These terms are used widely and are, again, key factors in the speed of your service.

Contended or shared services are the reason broadband products have to be advertised as ‘up to’ when talking about download speed, eg. ‘up to 20mb’. If you have a contended service at the exchange, it means many people – both residential and business – are sharing your connection.  Therefore, if 50 premises were all using the same ‘service’ at exactly the same time, then you be unlikely to get 20mb, hence the ‘up to 20mb’.

An uncontended service does exactly what it says on the tin: no other properties are contending for your download or upload speeds. If you purchase a 20mb service then it will be 20mb at all times, no matter how many other services operate from the same exchange. Uncontended solutions are generally the services described as business grade products.

Service level agreement (SLA)

Having a service level agreement (SLA) on your internet connection is key for any business that is heavily reliant on its internet connection.  All uncontended services come with a business grade SLA.

The SLA on uncontended services is product dependent, but generally provides a fix time of between four and eight hours, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Contended services don’t offer a similar SLA.

The Technology

Below we have detailed the internet connectivity options available to businesses. We have started with the slower, oldest technology available; finishing with high speed Ethernet services.

Contended Services

Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL)

All ADSL services are asymmetric services, which essentially means your download speed will be higher than your upload speed, no matter on your location or the service you choose.

ADSL comes in different flavours but your choice depends on the technological capability of your local exchange.  All services are delivered using copper wire from the exchange to your premises. The latency on these products is much higher than on uncontended services.

ADSL Max

ADSL Max is the slowest of available ADSL services and generally only used in rural areas where the exchange has not been upgraded.  The maximum speeds achievable are 8mb download and 1mb upload, although you do have to be very close to the exchange to get the full speeds.

ADSL2+

ADSL2+ is a fairly standard business broadband product.  It is available to the majority of properties and is capable of 24mb download speeds and 1.4mb upload speeds.

Annex M

Annex M is a version of ADSL2+, however it provides businesses with a higher upload speed in return for a slightly lower download speed – useful for businesses who rely on cloud computing solutions. Annex M can offer an upload speed of ‘up to’ 3.3mb. This solution is great if your budget cannot stretch to a more expensive uncontended service, but you need a slightly higher upload speed.

Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC)

Access to an FTTC solution is dependent on two different sections of the network being upgraded.  

Firstly, the exchange must have FTTC equipment. Secondly, the cabinet (the green box on side of the road) has to have been upgraded so that a piece of fibre is installed between the exchange and the cabinet. This is where the term, Fibre to the Cabinet comes from. The service is still delivered using copper wire from the cabinet to your premises.

FTTC speeds are, again, ‘up to’ speeds because the service is contended.  FTTC can achieve speeds of 80mb download and 20mb upload.

Fibre to the Premises (FTTP)

FTTP is similar to FTTC but the fibre goes all the way to your premises and not just to the cabinet. Speeds are still ‘up to’ as it is a contended service, although they are much faster than FTTC, with 300mb download and 30mb upload possible.

FTTP is a newer service and, unfortunately, is not yet widely available.  Add to this the fact that not many service providers offer the solution, even where it is available, and we have a frustrating situation.

Uncontended Services

Ethernet over Fibre to the Cabinet (EoFTTC)

A relatively new service, launched in 2014, EoFTTC uses the same technology as FTTC but is an uncontended service.  This means that if your premises can achieve 15mb upload speeds, for example, you are guaranteed this speed at all times.  If the service drops below that speed, you are entitled to report a fault with the service.

Because EoFTTC is not a contended product, the latency is much better than that of FTTC. The service also comes with a service level agreement which is generally eight hours.

EoFTTC is the most cost effective solution for businesses taking their first step into business grade internet solutions.  

Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM)

Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM) is a copper based product.  It would generally be recommended if EoFTTC is not available and you need speeds of between 5mbps and 20mbps.

But there is another situation when EFM comes into its own.  If your business is based in a rural area, and getting fibre to the premises is either impossible or very expensive, because EFM is delivered by copper, in the majority of cases, there is no extra installation charge.

There are two variants of EFM: a dual service and a quad service.  As the names suggest, the dual consists of two copper pairs and the quad uses four.

EFM uses clever technology to present the circuit as a single connection to the business premises.

EFM has an eight hour service level agreement and benefits from the same low latency that EoFTTC and Leased Lines receive.

Leased Line

A Leased Line – also called Ethernet or Direct Internet Access - is the best business grade internet connectivity solution currently available.

The service is delivered via fibre directly from the local point of presence, often an exchange, to your premises.

The service can be installed on a 100mb bearer or a 1GB bearer, depending on your business needs.  Once the bearer is installed, you can choose your desired speed: you might need 10mbps upload and download or you may require 50mb. The service can be tailored to your needs.

Leased Lines have a five hour service level agreement.

Many people are surprised at the price of Leased Lines and, unlike two to three years ago, it’s often a good surprise!

Three years a 10mb Leased Line service would have cost in the region of £700-£1000 per month. Today the prices are more than 50% cheaper in the majority of locations.

Finding the right solution: what does your business need?

First of all, we would recommend speaking to a few different suppliers before you make a decision on your internet connectivity solution.  There are some fundamental questions that any supplier should ask you, so be prepared with answers to the following questions:  

  • Does your business rely on the internet? If so, do you require a product with a service level agreement?
  • Do you use any hosted services, like OneDrive, or do your telephone calls route over the internet?
  • How many people do you have accessing the internet on a regular basis?
  • Do you have remote workers or people working away from the office regularly that need access to files in your office?
  • Do you plan on being in your current location for a number of years?
  • Do you have any growth plans that would impact any of the above?

These are the main questions that would give a supplier a good idea of your business.  Of course there are potentially hundreds of other questions but the above are key.

How can Connection Vouchers help your business?

The Connection Voucher scheme will support your business with the cost associated of improving your business internet connectivity. The scheme covers up to £3000 of the cost involved in getting the solution installed.

What suppliers can I use?

Currently there are not many local suppliers listed on the Connection Vouchers website. However the supplier registration is open for new suppliers so we would expect to see the majority of local suppliers joining the scheme. Suppliers can register as long as they have one customer who would like to benefit from the scheme.

Therefore, the choice is yours, as long as your supplier is happy to register for the scheme.

Connection Vouchers (FAQ)

You are eligible if…

  • your business has a Norwich city postcode
  • you employ less than 249 people or volunteers
  • you are a business, registered charity, social enterprise or sole trader
  • you have a turnover of less than €50 (around £41m) and/or have a balance sheet of less than €43M (around £35.5M)
  • you have received less than €200k in public grants in the last three years
  • you do not have a parent company or linked enterprise which does not meet the eligibility criteria
  • the connection is for your business premises. You can apply for a connection at home if this is your main work base, but this does not apply if you work from home occasionally
  • installation of your new broadband connection will cost over £100
  • you are willing to sign up to a minimum six month contract with your broadband supplier
  • the broadband service you select delivers a speed or performance improvement on your current connection.

Comms Supply

After several years working for one of the largest telecommunications suppliers in the UK Karl Alderton became frustrated by the service that clients had to accept.

He originally launched Comms Consulting Limited to help SMEs make informed decisions about everything to do with phone systems, broadband and mobile communications; as well as wider issues surrounding effective telecoms, such as disaster recovery and issues resolution.

However Karl struggled to find suppliers who shared his attitude to customer care. He decided the only way to ensure the bespoke solutions he recommended would come to fruition in a cost effective, professional and timely manner was to deliver them himself. That’s when Comms Supply was born.  For more information call 0333 2020 900 or email info@commssupply.co.uk.

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