If you saw the recent announcement from the government about a £400 million Digital Infrastructure Investment fund, you could be forgiven for thinking we were in for a treat. Are things finally looking up for business broadband?
Not quite. At least not if you are counting on investment from central government anyway. That £400 million Digital Infrastructure Investment fund is actually the same fund announced three different times. So if we cannot rely on government, what does the future for business broadband look like right now? Matt Powell, editor at BroadbandGenie.co.uk takes us through the current broadband options for businesses.
Business broadband options
With the news that Virgin Media are offering a new “Voom” fibre product promising 350Mbps, BT expanding trials of its 330Mbps “G.fast” technology, and the slow but steady rollout of ultrafast Fibre To The Premises networks, things look good. If you live in a fibre area.
What if you’re not in a fibre or cabled area?
If your location doesn’t have cable or fibre to the building, you still have options. You can opt for standard business broadband that uses ADSL, Ethernet First Mile (EFM), Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) or a leased line. And if all else fails, there’s always satellite broadband.
ADSL and its variants all use existing copper wires to provide business broadband. While slower than fibre, it is available anywhere that has a telephone line. Depending on how far you are from your local BT exchange, you can achieve up to 17Mbps download and up to 2Mbps upload.
ADSL lines are contended, so depending on how many other businesses are connected to the same exchange, you may experience reductions in speeds at peak times. If this is an issue you can find specialist business providers which ADSL with offer lower contention ratios, as well as other options such as line bonding (joining ADSL lines to get one faster connection). But these do come at a higher cost.
Ethernet in the First Mile
Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM) is available across much of the country except very rural areas. It is made up of a pair of copper lines that provide faster uncontended speeds. This means you are not competing with others connected to the same exchange and have dedicated bandwidth solely for your use.
The downside is expense. EFM connections are significantly more expensive than ADSL, but in return you get guaranteed bandwidth without contention.
Fibre to the Cabinet
If you are based in a larger village or town, you may have the option for Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC). FTTC connections have fibre to the street cabinet with the final leg into a home or business using the old copper telephone line. This is the type of fibre used by all the major providers (Virgin Media services are a similar technology called Hybrid Fibre Coaxial, where coax cable is used instead of copper).
BT’s 21CN project has seen a massive expansion of its fibre network to street level. While that final piece is still copper, the short length of transmission means you could achieve up to 79Mbps download speeds, or up to 350Mbps on Virgin Media.
FTTC connections are more expensive than ADSL (though only by a little) and are still contended, so may not suit businesses with very demanding use cases.
Leased lines are only practical for larger businesses due to their high cost. A leased line can be very fast, has no contention and will include competitive Service Level Agreements (SLA) to guarantee uptime. Leased lines come in the form or EFM or fibre and can offer very reliable business broadband, at a cost.
Typically, a leased line is at least ten times the cost of a standard ADSL connection but comes with uptime guarantees and asymmetric speeds, meaning you get the same speed upstream as you do down.
If conventional broadband services are unavailable or unaffordable, there’s always satellite internet. As it uses orbiting relays instead of fixed lines it will work anywhere in the UK. The only requirement is that you must be able to mount a dish with clear view of the sky.
Satellite broadband sounds like it should be expensive, but it is now cheap enough that it’s being used for home broadband, so even the smallest businesses should be able to budget for it. Speeds are also reasonably good, typically offering up to 30Mbps down and 6Mbps up. The only catch is that satellite has a very high latency, which means that anything which relies on rapid communication – such as Voice Over IP or remote desktop access – may be impacted.