By Sasha Williamson, CEO of Luminet
Sit close enough to a broadband expert and in less than 60 seconds they’ll start banging on to you about ‘Gigabit’. Short for ‘Gigabit broadband’ where connection speeds start at an eye-watering 1,000Mbps (easily 100 times faster than what most small businesses would see as the norm), it’s easy to appreciate the opportunities for saying goodbye to rubbish video calls, slow access to mission-critical IT applications and any other symptoms of slow broadband.
Gigabit is rolling out all over the country and sooner or later it will be decision time for your business. Do you need it, or not? Is your existing broadband connectivity insufficiently broad to accommodate all the stuff you need to push down it? In the vast majority of cases the answer will be no. Most business broadband is simply clogged up, and unclogging it is a good deal wiser than blindly throwing money at bigger infrastructure you don’t actually need.
Take the example of the Managing Director and her important call scheduled for 3pm with a big potential buyer in the US. The buyer will commit if he sees and hears a slick presentation of the company’s credentials via the web conference he’s set up. Unfortunately, 3pm is the climax of the Cricket World Cup Final and, unbeknownst to the MD, 11 company staff are surreptitiously keeping half an eye on live coverage streams, while chattering away on Facebook. Inevitable technical problems make the call a disaster and the MD kneejerks into buying a bigger broadband connection on the basis of a highly simplistic business case which does nothing about the underlying problem.
“Work expands to fill the time available” is the old adage about human behaviour at work, and strikes a cautionary note to anyone blindly hiring more people as the silver bullet to increasing productivity. Its 21st century equivalent is “broadband consumption expands to fill the bandwidth available”, meaning you shouldn’t necessarily expect an increase in broadband investment to make your broadband experience better.
The average small business rarely uses any more than 15% of its network capacity. Despite this, most will be experiencing the symptoms of congestion with negative feedback from users and customers alike. Why?
The answer doesn’t lie in the headline broadband speed of your provider. There is a fundamental difference between broadband speed (and the notion that the bigger the better) and quality of service. Quality of service is the value that broadband needs to deliver to your business, and it’s driven by visibility and control over application usage.
Many small businesses have taken steps to understand what traffic their limited IT budget is paying to transport, making a modest investment in intelligence rather than giving a blank cheque to bigger broadband.
This doesn’t automatically mean a draconian approach to your workers’ broadband habits, and wholesale blocking of apparently frivolous social networking sites. You can safeguard the business benefit of all app usage (as well as avoiding an employee mutiny) by gaining visibility over your applications so that their slice of the available broadband is controlled, even down to specific types of user, or times of day that avoid peak usage periods or data backups.
This ensures on-demand delivery of the performance you paid for, when you need it, and for what business critical applications you need to use. Those bandwidth hogs guilty of gobbling too much of your business broadband – and slowing things down for everyone else - can be easily identified and controlled.
With a little insight, and fair policies, the typical businesses can happily manage with half of what they already have - plus there are Government Connected Voucher subsidies available to further reduce costs. This means small businesses in 50 UK cities that genuinely do need a broadband upgrade have on a first come first served basis to claim up to £3,000 each.