When you’re a business owner, your internet connection is ultimately your connection to everything that your business needs or does. It’s a core, foundational element of your business. If you’re just starting out as a business owner and you need to choose a provider, or you’re looking for a new option, there’s a lot to know.
For example, one hour of technical downtime can cost a business tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you experience an outage you can lose data access, and some outages last several hours or more.
Once you have a clearer understanding of the business internet options, you can get more into the specifics of connectivity—for example, choosing between a local area network or a wide area network.
Most businesses are in a period of digital transformation, making the right business connectivity even more important.
This is going to increasingly be true with the ongoing move toward the cloud. You have to have connectivity that’s fast and reliable to get to all of your essential business information when it’s cloud-based.
The following is a guide to some of the things to know as you select a business internet service.
How Is Commercial Internet Different from Residential?
You’ll notice right away that business internet costs more than residential service.
There are a few reasons for this.
First, a business service will typically offer guarantees on uptime, availability, and bandwidth.
Business internet offers more flexible configurations, as well.
Residential internet often has restrictions on upload speeds, and business internet needs faster upload speeds for smooth, streamlined operations.
When you buy a business internet, you should also receive a service-level agreement. A service-level agreement is a contract that states the obligations of the provider and their guaranteed performance standard. Business customers have a greater understanding of what to expect as compared to residential customers, which typically get a less binding iteration of the services they’ll receive.
Business internet is anywhere from two to five times faster than residential internet.
Before you make a decision on your internet, you need to think about your business needs, and in particular, the amount of bandwidth you’ll need. Consider the number of employees you have and what tasks they use the internet to complete on any given day.
Consider whether you’ll be downloading and uploading to the cloud, the size of files you typically work with and whether you do things like video conferencing on a regular basis.
You can look online and find calculators that will help you get a better idea of what your bandwidth needs are.
Sometimes you may actually think speed is more important than it is. Yes, you need high-speed internet to run a business, but the things that take up the most bandwidth are videos, video surveillance, and also video chats. If there’s not a lot of that going on, you can worry less about speed than you would otherwise.
If you’re a small business and employees aren’t using a lot of applications or transferring huge amounts of data, you’re going to get the same speed no matter what, but you may not need as much bandwidth as you think.
As far as actual speed and not just bandwidth, don’t pay for more than you need. Costs go up with speed, and for a small business with just one or two employees, you will probably be fine with anywhere from 15 to 25 Mbps. For a business with employees in the double-digits needs might go up to anywhere from 75 to 100 Mbps, and for large or fast-growing businesses, needs could range anywhere from 100 to 500 Mbps.
What Are the Different Connection Types?
The types of connections that may be available to you can vary depending on where you live.
Some of the options include DSL, which stands for Digital Subscriber Line. There are also cable and satellite options as well as fiber-optic internet. Fiber-optic internet is the oldest connection but also the fastest. However, it’s also more expensive than other options and isn’t available everywhere.
For people in rural areas, businesses may use satellite service most often. In urban areas, Digital Subscriber Lines and cable may be more common.
Choosing an Internet Service Provider (ISP)
Making the wrong decision as far as a business ISP can be devastating to a business—especially a small one.
The most general and foundational questions to ask an internet service provider include how many hours of downtime they lose a year, whether or not they have local service technicians and when their customer service centers are open.
You might also want to ask about something called a Data Cap, which some ISPs have, and some don’t. A Data Cap is the level an ISP might start charging you if you went over your max usage level in a given billing cycle.
Other considerations when choosing an ISP are:
- Choose an ISP that offers scalability. Even with some pretty strong estimates on your bandwidth usage, you may get it wrong, and that’s fairly common. You want to be able to go up as you need as well, so scalability is important.
- Check the specs for any specific service you’re thinking about. You can get comparisons and specs from several service providers so you can look at them side-by-side. If you’re using a VoIP, you might want to ask that provider about the ISP they recommend. The primary specs for comparison are latency, packet loss, and uptime. This should be outlined in your Service Level Agreement.
- Ask about redundancy. Internet providers, no matter how high-quality, have outages sometimes. If you want to make sure you have a business continuity, you should find a backup provider
Finally, another consideration to keep in mind when choosing business internet is the contractual obligation that will be required of you. The average length of an ISP contract is two years, but there are shorter and longer options. Make sure you read the fine print about early termination fees before signing anything.