What’s more, increased use of cloud computing – services accessed online – means your business may be more dependent than ever on its fast connection.
There are lots of internet service providers (ISPs) offering a range of internet connection options. The most common is broadband internet access through a standard telephone line. This is also called ADSL.
ADSL is adequate for many companies with fewer than 20 employees and offers reasonable value. Fibre optic services offer faster services for businesses that have larger data requirements. What’s on offer from each business ISP can differ - answering these questions will help you identify the best:
Read your business ISP’s small print carefully. Notably, connection speeds can vary depending on the distance between your premises and the local telephone exchange — yet many ISPs only quote the best case speed.
Cheaper packages also tend to limit how much data you can transfer each month.
Many business ISPs offer optional extras, like email addresses or inclusive telephone calls. While this can save money, be wary of relying on one provider. For instance, if one business ISP supplies your telephone and internet connection, a problem could cut you off completely.
The UK’s internet infrastructure is changing rapidly. Major telecoms firms like BT and Virgin Media are rolling out fibre optic connections, which are much faster than ADSL broadband and can sustain advertised connection speeds more reliably.
Fibre is still only available in certain areas. Sam Knows will tell you the status in your area if you type in your postcode.
Fibre can be more expensive than ADSL — although prices have dropped considerably. You can now get a fibre connection for as little as £5–£25 a month.
If you have over 20 employees or use the internet heavily, a fibre connection is almost certainly worth considering. It’s likely to become standard for businesses in areas with coverage.
If you’re a larger company, or have critical requirements – like access to a connection guaranteed not to fail - you may need to consider a leased line. This is a dedicated internet connection which can provide very high speeds and which your business can depend on in all circumstances.
However, leased lines are expensive. BT's typical leased-line customer pays just over £300 a month, but prices can go much higher. Leased lines require specialist knowledge to install and configure.
Many leased line suppliers will be willing to customise the service you receive. They may also offer web hosting and other telecoms services.
In any case, seek advice from an IT expert – like your IT supplier – if you’re not confident deciding what sort of internet connection to plump for.
You will probably need additional hardware to connect to the internet. Many business ISPs will supply a router for free. This connects to your phone line, allowing you to share the internet connection. Take security precautions to protect your business internet connection from online threats too.
Finally, remember that the internet can create management issues. Make sure your staff understand what they are and aren’t allowed to use the internet connection for, and document this in an IT policy.