Deciding Which Business Internet Technology Works Best for You
Why it’s so hard to choose the best internet plan for your small business
Being happy with your business internet connection, and what it costs you, is surprisingly hard to achieve. The problem isn’t with you, or your business. Your need for fast speed internet that’s reliable and doesn’t cost too much is straight forward. However, the politics and mechanisms of the communications world are not. To quote one of our senior engineers, “the world of communications is complicated”.
As NBN is the newest fixed line internet connection provider in Australia, people tend to believe it delivers the best speeds to connect households and businesses to the internet. Is this always a safe assumption for you to make in choosing your business internet?
For those with limited time, or who just want to get to the point:
For most businesses, the only type of internet connection you should consider is business-grade. Only business-grade connections will give your business the higher throughput, guaranteed speeds and uptime Service Level Agreements (SLAs) you need for your business to operate efficiently – no matter who you sign up with!
Before you sign a contract:
- Find out what type of internet services and connections are available to your area;
- Find out if your provider has a clearly defined process to help you escalate issues; and
- Find out what it will cost you to exit your existing plan.
Sometimes the best internet provider for small business is your local ISP. Never assume the best connection options, plans and pricing come from Australia’s biggest providers.
Refer below for tips on how to avoid common problems that affect NBN connections.
If your Internet connection is out of contract, it’s time to review it now.
What is NBN?
NBN Co was established in 2009 to design, build and operate Australia’s wholesale broadband access network. As a small business owner or manager, you will not have a direct relationship with NBN Co. Rather, you access their services through retail telephone companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
This has created a level of ambiguity around NBN services that can be used to advantage by resellers. Whilst various providers of NBN services make claims that suggest they have unique ‘award winning NBN services’, any NBN connection you buy from an ISP or phone company has been sourced wholesale from NBN Co. The difference between what one reseller offers over another comes down to two areas:
- How they choose to bundle, price and promote various internet connections they buy wholesale from NBN Co.
- What bandwidth options the provider provisions in their network to service your connection. Think of it like this, you won’t get home any quicker at the end of the day by having a 5-lane paved driveway if you can only travel there via a potholed dirt track.
Does NBN offer you the best business internet connection?
Have you ever heard the expression, ‘horses for courses’? It means that people or things have different qualities and skills suitable for different situations. It’s the same with internet connections. NBN offers a range of internet services, however whether one or none suit your business depends on your requirements. For example, one important thing you will need to ascertain is whether NBN is available in your area.
Even now, NBN connections are not available in every location. Start your assessment by clarifying what connections are available in your area. Then you can drill down to find out which connection offers you the best service for your business.
How do you make the right internet choice for your business?
Internet Service Providers and telephone companies are keen marketers, using buzz phrases like ‘awesome NBN speeds’, ‘unlimited data’ and ‘value for money’ to sell their services. Interestingly the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) Annual Report for 2019-20 notes^ one of the four main causes of complaints from small businesses comes from committing “to products unsuitable for their needs – with plenty of options to consider there can be costs involved when they choose the wrong product”. (^Page 50, under subheading, ‘Small business complaints’.)
How can you see past buzz words and clever marketing to make the right choice for your business? In looking to understand and break down what’s on offer, you may have visited an online internet comparison website. One such comparison website states, “We rank our Internet plans by calculating overall value, weighing price, speed, data, contract length and more”.
For you to know which of these elements are the most important to your business you need to have a realistic understanding of your internet usage. If your business setup mainly uses Office 365 and Outlook for your operational needs, you don’t deal with large data or image files and don’t rely on multiple cloud apps, a range of internet options can be suitable for your needs.
However, if your business or Firm relies heavily on cloud apps, online meetings and conferencing and works on large data or image files that will make a huge difference to what internet service is suitable for your business.
The most important question you should ask
“Are you offering me consumer or business grade Internet?”
Whatever service is promoted to you, by whichever provider, all internet connections fall into one of two categories: consumer grade, or business grade. And in that definition is a world of difference!
Only business-grade connections will give you the higher throughput, guaranteed speeds and uptime Service Level Agreements (SLAs) you need for your business to operate efficiently – no matter who you sign up with! However good a consumer-grade service sounds, it will not have the level of SLAs that regulate and protect business-grade connections. The difference between consumer grade and business grade internet is like the difference between flying budget economy and business-class. If you select a consumer grade internet connection you will receive much lower levels of service.
Victoria’s extended lockdown restrictions exposed the inferior services provided by ISPs selling consumer grade connections. In October 2020, online news site www.news.com.au published the article, ‘NBN Complaints ‘through the roof’ due to overseas call centres’. In it the head of Australia’s competition regulator, ACCC chair Rod Sims, praised the backbone of NBN’s network (NBN Co) but slams NBN providers, “the likes of Telstra, Optus, TPG and Dodo”, that customers buy their connections through. “Consumer complaints about their NBN connections have risen dramatically. The level of complaints has just gone through the roof.”
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has confirmed that telco complaints surged by 1500 per cent in the 2019-2020 financial year. Around a third of the complaints – the largest chunk at 43,000 – was for internet services. Many of these were during the early months of the pandemic. NBN issues were up by five per cent. The article notes that, ‘a particular bug bear was customer service, or the lack of it.’
Only business-grade connections give you the level of service that ensure your call for support gets prioritised, as well as give your business the higher throughput, guaranteed speeds, uptime Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and customer service it needs to operate efficiently.
TIO’s statistics show it’s important for your business to establish up front, before you sign an internet contract, what kind of support your team will be provided with should an issue arise. Find out if your provider has in place clearly defined steps and SLAs around how issues can be escalated if they are taking too long to resolve, or if you’re unhappy with an outcome.
Sometimes your best option as a small business can be to team with a smaller local provider who manages internet connections. Keeping you as a client and your team happy and connected will be a higher priority to a local support team than, say, a national provider with large call centres, especially if call centres are located overseas.
Does NBN offer business-grade connections?
Yes! NBN Co’s flagship business fibre product is called ‘Enterprise Ethernet’ and is “designed to meet the needs of businesses of different sizes, whether you‘re big or small”. Whilst an excellent product, a key issue with Enterprise Ethernet for small business is its cost. NBN’s Enterprise Ethernet is generally more expensive than a comparable offering from other providers. For example, at the time of writing this article¹ one fibre product currently offered by MSP itro is Fibre 1000 for around $600per month, whereas an equivalent Enterprise Ethernet connection will set you back around $1,200 per month. (¹ Internet products and plans offered by ISPs are constantly changing. It’s always worth your time to do a little research to make sure you’re getting the best product and price at any given time!)
TIPS to get the most out of your NBN connection
When it comes to NBN’s flagship fibre product the main issue is cost. Your level of cloud dependency and internet usage will determine if the cost is worth the benefit. For example, if you are working from home and routinely work on large data or image files, as do engineering and graphic design firms, then you need a minimum connection with 100 Mbps download/40 Mbps upload speeds! Without that those speeds you’ll have problems working on large data files and images, and sometimes even at those speeds you can suffer from bandwidth bottlenecks. This means you will be unable to work ‘live’ on your images or large data files stored remotely, for example on Microsoft Azure or ADOBE servers.
If you are part of a larger team and work heavily on cloud apps then going for a Gigabit Fibre connection is most likely your best option.
What if you only want a standard NBN connection?
NBN connections don’t tend to have problems delivering data to your devices. NBN’s problems are around their up speed when you try to push data ‘back up the pipe’. What does this mean for your business?
Depending on your level of cloud dependency and internet usage, NBN’s standard-grade connections generally suit businesses with less than 5 users. If your business has 10+ users working from a central point, such as your office, you will find standard NBN connections do not offer the level of SLAs or performance your business needs.
Think carefully about your internet consumption needs before you sign on to a new plan. One reason why NBN’s basic services are not suitable for remote business use is our appetite for cloud services. Many of us are now working from home, and that’s a trend that’s likely to continue for some time. Think about your working day at home. Accessing files remotely is just part of your day. Lockdown restrictions and technical advances have changed our workday into one of the streamed conference calls, streaming background music and TV. If you tend to use these services as you work remotely then you need to practically consider what bandwidth you and your team needs to work easy without long delays from slow internet speeds or oversubscribed bandwidth.
Consider too the impact on your home NBN connection if you have multiple family members all doing the same thing. Two or three individuals on a Video call, someone watching Netflix and then trying to work on Microsoft 365 could very quickly saturate an entry-level home NBN connection.
Interestingly the majority of reported NBN complaints on basic/consumer-grade connections revolve around two different working scenarios:
- Remote worker experiences, and
- Businesses using multiple connections within their office and/or utilising extensive cloud applications.
Complainants have commented that they find using their mobile hotspot to tether to an internet connection is more effective than using their standard NBN connection. Your remote team users can experience problems uploading data they’ve been working on back to your cloud or on-premises office server. For example, if you are a lawyer you will have no problems downloading (pulling down) a complete client folder to work on remotely, however, trying to upload you amended data back to your server will be a problem!
Having the right internet connection will help your team and business or Practice recover and deal with the unique economic downturns and challenges of 2020!
If you would like to know more about different kind of internet connections available to your business area and pricing, please contact itro on 1800 10 3000 or email us on [email protected] for independent advice on a wide selection of broadband and wireless internet services.