Connectivity is everything in business. We need to be connected to the outside world to communicate, to service customers, to be seen and to access cloud solutions. Without a reliable high speed business broadband provider or some kind of fast internet connection, small to medium-sized businesses already face an uphill struggle before they begin.

When you’re evaluating business internet providers, there are a few questions you will want to ask before you sign on the line. Some are obvious but some not so much. If you are looking to renew your business internet, here are a few questions you might like to task potential vendors.

What type of service can I get?

Business internet comes in a range of types, from the simple cable or broadband connection to DSL, fibre optic, leased line or private circuit. All differ slightly in the service they provide and the cost they incur.

Business broadband or cable is the simplest connection. It will be provided by BT or local last mile provider. It can also be resold by third parties and bundled with their own support. Available speeds depend on how far you are from an exchange for DSL or how up to date the head end is for cable.

Fibre optic connections vary greatly in speed and capacity depending on where you live. FTTC connections take fibre optic links to the cabinet and then rely on copper to your premises. Fibre-served buildings provide a full fibre optic connection. Speeds will depend on what type of connection you can get.

Leased lines are specific connections delivered to your premises by the vendor. They are often several times the cost of business broadband but can be much more reliable and suffer less congestion. Much depends on your location and the provider delivering the service.

Private circuits are leased lines that are dedicated to you alone. They are expensive but if you run mission critical apps that depend on a reliable, low-latency connection, they are a good bet. They are also more secure as your traffic does not use the same channels as other traffic like it does with a leased line. If you work in a regulated industry, it will be well worth considering a private circuit.

How secure is your data?

There is no point having strong encryption and security standards in your office only to transmit data insecurely across your internet connection. If you have to keep your data secure, you will need to secure that link. For that you will need a fibre broadband or high speed internet connection that will work with VPN or better still, be inherently secure.

Other options include network hardware that supports HTTPS, SSL, TLS, FTPS and other secure protocols. Also check that any BYOD or mobile devices can also be effectively secured.

How reliable is the connection?

Most quality business internet providers will promise uptimes in excess of 99%. While that number looks great on paper, it means that you could potentially suffer one hour of downtown every working fortnight which is not acceptable. Reliability is measured in uptime but also resilience.

Does the connection have a backup link? How many single points of failure are there? Who is responsible for troubleshooting the network and network hardware? What disaster recovery options are there? Some of these will be the responsibility of the vendor while others may be your responsibility. You need to know which is which before you commit so you can make the appropriate arrangements.

What hours am I covered?

Many business ISPs commit to 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday support or slight variations on that theme. That’s fine if you primarily work during those hours but not so great if you work at the weekend or overnight.

A good vendor will have a range of  tech support tiers to deliver the support you need when you need it. A great vendor will be able to customise a support package around your specific needs. Out of hours will be more expensive but if you regularly work out of normal hours, it is likely less expensive than having no link to the outside world.

If money is an issue, there are always PAYG support services that can include out of hours cover.

What about the SLA?

SLA’s or Service Level Agreements typically guarantee a specific response time in specific circumstances. For example, ‘a fault ticket will be picked up within an hour’ or a ‘Cat 1 fault will be picked up immediately’, ‘parts will be dispatched within 24 hours’ and other conditions.

It’s important to check the small print within SLAs. Just because a fault ticket is picked up, doesn’t mean it will be investigated right away. Just because a replacement part might be dispatched within 24 hours, doesn’t mean it will get to you quickly.

Pick apart the conditions and make sure you are getting the support you need to maintain productivity. It’s no good having a new router dispatched within a couple of hours of you asking for one if the company uses Royal Mail standard delivery to get it to you. It sounds unlikely, but a couple of business internet providers do just that!

What other services are available?

Most internet companies bundle other services that SMBs might find useful. These can include unified communications, managed services, network services, helpdesk, extra security, cloud storage or ancillary support service.

When negotiating with vendors, it is always worth seeing what else can be bundled in with your business internet connection. If you could hand off helpdesk or network tasks to them too it allows you to concentrate on running the business instead of IT tasks.

There is a lot for a small to medium business owner to take in especially if this is all new. At least now you have an idea of some questions to ask and some things to look out for.

If you are looking for a reliable partner to manage any aspect of your IT and networking, contact Excalibur today. We’re here to help!

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