By Mike van Bunnens, Managing Director, Comms365
What is the most important consideration for a business buying a new broadband connection? From the way many businesses are making the investment decision, the answer appears to be cost – with most expecting to achieve the same rock bottom prices on offer in the domestic market. But with more and more businesses running VoIP and cloud based applications, their choice of broadband connection is essential. Any glitch in service will have a massive knock on effect on productivity and customer relationships. So why are businesses not considering resilience or how broadband failure fits into the Disaster Recovery plan? Why are many not even ascertaining the speed and quality of the broadband options before moving to a new office premises?
A high quality, resilient broadband connection is now one of the most critical aspects of any business’ set up. So why are business owners still applying domestic thinking to business critical communications?
Risk versus Reward
The surge in new SMEs in recent years is due in no small part to the raft of enabling technologies that have removed the barriers to entry. From low cost Voice over IP (VoIP) calls to pay-as-you-go business applications in the cloud, today’s technology and communications provide the scalability and flexibility required to deliver unprecedented business agility. Yet the very simplicity of these technologies may be their Achilles heel – far too few SMEs have truly grasped the new risk/reward balance associated with this model.
From companies turning over £100,000 a year to those with revenues in the £100ms, many UK SMEs are guilty of applying the same thought processes to acquiring both business and domestic communications. But how can this make sense? Ask any business owner what happens if the Internet connection goes out for a few minutes, an hour, a day or a week and watch them blanch - the business impact will be devastating. What happens when the VoIP phones no longer work – how can customers get in touch? And when staff can’t access any information or applications because they are all hosted in the cloud – is the backup plan to send them all to work from home?
Taking the same approach to this critical business infrastructure that an individual would apply to a home running a couple of laptops, a smart TV and an Xbox is clearly flawed. And yet it happens – a lot. And far too many companies only recognise the mistake when the worst happens – and it is in a flurry of ‘never again’ panic that the business owner recognises the importance of selecting an enterprise level rather than domestic communications service.
The root cause of this tendency to downplay the importance of the broadband connection is easy to identify. Over recent years domestic Internet service providers have embraced a bundled mode (triple and quad play), selling the broadband as a loss leader as part of a package of services that include voice, pay for TV and mobile. With minimal focus on any differentiation between the quality, speed and resilience of the broadband connection, most people increasingly assume there is little to choose between providers.
This approach is increasingly being adopted in the business marketplace, with providers bundling voice services with the Internet connection. Today SIP trunks are being marketed as a free add on to the Internet connection and, without doubt, these providers will increasingly subsidise the broadband connection to sell higher value cloud and voice services.
There are two critical problems with this approach. Firstly, it downplays the essential aspect of any communications service in a business environment – namely resiliency. Secondly, if a business does, in hindsight, decide that resiliency is required, the bundled option simply might not include any provision for resilient services.
The great news is that with the pace of 4G roll out, it is not that difficult to add resiliency. While most companies are still reluctant to run all operations over a mobile network due to a perception of the high costs associated with mobile data, as a backup, 4G and even 3G, is a fantastic option. Furthermore, the cost of 4G is today pretty much on a par with standard broadband and significantly cheaper than a leased line. A simple failover solution that automatically shifts over to the mobile network should the ADSL, FTTC or Ethernet line go down is a quick and effective contingency option. In fact, when organisations even in low 4G areas are achieving speeds in excess of 10Mb, most companies may actually discover the contingency service runs better than the primary one.
Speed is another consideration that many organisations also overlook - not all broadband services are the same. While the concept of the rural divide is widely recognised, the reality is that two streets in the same town can experience very different broadband services. One street in Milton Keynes, for example, boasts superfast broadband on one side – and a paltry 1Mb on the other. Put your business on the wrong side of the street and any plans to use VoIP or applications in the cloud will have to be put on hold.
In addition to implementing 4G as a contingency, it is possible to bond multiple fixed and mobile services into one, providing not only resilience but also the network speeds required to support the increasingly Internet reliant business model. Indeed, the entire network can actually be delivered under a full Service Level Agreement (SLA), with remote monitoring to provide a far more robust and resilient approach and meet a business’ Disaster Recovery and business contingency requirements.
Counting the Cost
So how can a business owner determine whether the investment in current communications infrastructure is adequate? There are two simple questions to ask: where does broadband failure sit on the list of most damaging/ business interrupting events and where does the monthly broadband bill sit on the list of routine expenses? For most companies the sad reality is that postage expenditure may actually outstrip broadband – and every other utility will most certainly cost more - underpinning the clear disconnect in perception between risk and reward.
A fully resilient service does not cost the earth – but it does cost more than a domestic broadband connection. And it should. The broadband used by a business should never be the same as the one used at home – the implications of failure are fundamentally different. Companies need to stop skimping on the essentials; stop adopting a domestic approach to this critical broadband connection and invest in an enterprise level service that is designed to support the VoIP and cloud based services that now underpin agile UK business.