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How to choose a business broadband in a congested market, Ed Bamforth, Sales Manager
Not all broadbands are created equal
There are now more varieties, speeds, infrastructure types and providers than ever before. So how do you go about choosing what option is right for your business or home office and cut through all the marketing noise around these different offerings?
Before jumping into some of the techniques you can use let’s take a step back and review how our usage has changed over the last 5 years and how this trend might play out over the next few years. One major shift has been a move towards more real time applications. I’m sure everyone is suffering from some level of zoom fatigue from the last year with most of our professional and personal interactions taking place over webcam. Most of us have also been accessing applications that would usually have been local (e.g. an RDP server, Phone System) or that we would have been accessing over a business grade line from the office. It’s also worth noting that as speeds have increased so have the size of typical websites
The difference between residential and business use
The two differentiators between residential use and business use are expectation of performance and the type of performance needed. If you are on a zoom call doing a pub quiz with friends then a patch of poor quality might lead to you missing a question or two but is unlikely to be a major issue. The same issue in business context might be the difference between winning or losing a client. The type of performance needed comes down to whether the application you are using needs real time performance. If you are using Netflix or BT Sport at home it doesn’t matter if you are a few seconds behind the action because the content has buffered. However if you are editing a document remotely or on a business call then suddenly those delays become a real headache. There is a difference in expectation here with the residential user less impacted by inconsistent performance.
The residential sectors main marketing focus is speed. However, headline speeds are no guarantee of high performance for applications that are expected to work consistently or that need real time performance. Think of it as the difference between transporting some cake mix the day before the wedding vs the wedding cake on the day itself. For the cake mix you might as well stick it in the back of a Ferrari in rush hour as it doesn’t matter how or when it arrives. If it gets lost or damaged on the way then is can just be resent. On the other hand if you transporting a finished wedding cake then speed really drops down the list and the most important factor is making sure it gets there in one piece. The key here is not getting drawn in by headline speeds and to dig a little deeper into actual circuit performance i.e. the type of performance you actually need.
Assessing your requirements
So how do you disentangle the myriad of options available and work out what is best for you? The first step is assessing the minimum speed you need and then the type of performance you require. If you are just browsing the internet and using applications locally you probably don’t need high speed or high performance. If however you are on video calls with clients, using key business applications remotely, using remote desktop or anything that needs real time performance then the first thing you should look at are the actual performance service level agreements (performance SLAs). These are ultimately what your provider is beholden too.
Speed with Performance
Good things to look for are Jitter, Latency and Packet loss. These will dictate the minimum performance levels you can expect on the circuit. This means that you are now getting assurances on the key conditions that will ensure high performance.
So if you were transporting a wedding cake on the day of the wedding you want a company that will not only get it there on time but also in one piece and this is where digging into the performance SLAs is vital. Some application providers will quote minimum performance levels required for their application to work, these will often take the format of bandwidth required and performance levels for Jitter, Latency and Packet Loss. If your circuit doesn’t meet these performance levels then it doesn’t matter how fast it is – it won’t get your cake there in one piece! The performance SLAs of a circuit give you the peace of mind that it will give you the performance levels needed to provide a consistent high quality user experience.
A good example of this is to compare two services that have very similar infrastructure and the same delivery into your home or office but have markedly different performance levels. To put this into context we provide two services that both use fibre to the local cabinet in the street and then copper into the building. However, one of the services has very strong performance SLAs as it uses different infrastructure to get back to our core network (FTTC Ethernet) and the other has no performance SLAs so really isn’t suitable for the kind of real time processing we have been discussing (FTTC Broadband). This fundamental difference can only be uncovered by looking at the performance SLAs on the circuit so it’s essential that these are reviewed and match your requirements.
Another factor that can get overlooked is the level of support on the service. This can be split into two elements; the support level on the actual circuit i.e. fix time, the second can be how easy it is to actually get support. Again the requirements here will differ from a home connection, if my connection is down and all I wanted to do was watch Netflix this probably isn’t going to ruin my evening. If my connection goes down and I am about to discuss a proposal with a new client this will be slightly more problematic. It’s really important to understand what the fix time would be if your connection were to go down, what obligations does your provider have? If it were down how would you work and would a backup circuit be sensible? Plan for the worst but expect the best as the old adage goes. It’s also a wise move to check what the actual support is like, can you speak to someone easily if you have an issue? Are they able to actually fix the issue or will you get put on hold or endlessly transferred around? If you call back will they have a record of your conversation or are you starting from scratch? Try and understand where the support team are based and what their usual pick up and resolution times are. You can always give the support number a ring and see if you get put into a queue or if someone picks up, ask yourself if that is the experience you want if something goes wrong.
This isn’t an exhaustive list but hopefully it will help you to navigate through the range of options available. The most important thing is understanding your own usage and needs. Once you have a good picture of that you can then make a call as to what product will fit your needs best and it may well be that the fastest option isn’t necessarily the best. Once you are armed with that information you can then assess which circuit will best meet your requirements. If in doubt then take a step back and check through the Speeds, performance SLAs and Support levels available. If a provider isn’t happy to provide this information then approach with caution. Furthermore if they aren’t trying to understand your usage and needs and you haven’t either then you may not get a circuit that delivers when you really need it to.