Broadband connections have become far and away the most common means of getting online. Its cheap, easy and convenient to access because the public infrastructure is already there and, as we’ve moved towards fibre broadband, the technology has kept on moving with the times. Meaning that delivering bandwidth and download speeds that match the changing demands of increasingly sophisticated online behaviour is now easier than ever before.
But even the fastest modern broadband packages have their drawbacks for business use. In this blog, we’ll outline some of the limitations and challenges of a broadband internet connection for your business before outlining the main alternative option.
What is ‘Broadband’?
Broadband technically describes one approach to connecting to the internet with different technologies such as DSL, cable and fibre optics all used to provide broadband services.
These are public connections, which means that infrastructure resources (such as the wirelines used to carry the signals and the bandwidth capacity they can carry) are shared between different users. Broadband services are therefore often described as contended connections, with multiple users jostling to use of the bandwidth available.
There is usually no direct connection between an exchange and a customer’s premises. Internet service providers (ISPs) use on-street cabinets as intermediate routers or distribution nodes, creating a trunk-and-branch configuration with lots of individual lines connecting premises to the cabinet, and then a mainline connection carrying all of that traffic back to the exchange. Broadband connections are also asymmetric, referring to the fact that more bandwidth is made available for downloading than uploading data.
The business limitations of broadband
It’s a contended service.
The sharing of available resources (bandwidth) between multiple subscribers has a number of consequences;
It means that the quality of your internet connection will be prone to significant variations depending on how many other clients are using the service, and what they are doing with it. At the busiest times, the available capacity will be divided between so many users that the performance of individual applications may deteriorate noticeably. This is what causes the ‘peak traffic’ phenomenon with domestic broadband use when incidents of web pages crashing or streamed content buffering increase during evening hours when the majority of people are at home and wanting to use personal internet devices.
Such a lack of consistency and reliability in service quality is far from ideal for commercial organisations. Customers not being able to access your website, or an outage in your EPoS system, will cost your business in terms of both lost sales and possible reputational damage.
Businesses also tend to run more high-bandwidth applications than domestic internet users, things like VoIP telephone lines, video conferencing and data-heavy cloud platforms that are more susceptible to variations in available bandwidth.
Broadband providers cannot guarantee bandwidth at any given time
They are also reluctant to offer the cast iron SLAs that businesses might otherwise expect from an IT service provider. Broadband ISPs will advertise the ‘maximum download speeds’ available on their network, or what is possible in perfect conditions. But as conditions are unlikely to ever be perfect on a contended service – you would always expect someone else to be using the network, too – the actual top speed you ever achieve is likely to be lower, with average speeds falling even further behind.
Providers issue usage limits and heavy fines if you go over them
In order to try to maintain a reasonable distribution of the bandwidth available, many broadband providers will apply caps or fair use policies to limit the amount of data individual users can communicate over the network. This works in the same way as the data limit on your mobile contract – once you reach it, either your broadband service is pulled until your next billing period, or you incur a massive premium on top of your usual rates. For businesses running lots of data-hungry applications, this is problematic at best. They also get no say in how the bandwidth they use is allocated, for example to make sure the most bandwidth-sensitive applications are prioritised.
Latency of broadband impacts some of your most critical communication tools
Internet telephony services, or VoIP, are especially vulnerable to bandwidth fluctuations because of latency. As available bandwidth decreases, the transfer of data packages slows down. Once that falls below a certain level, real-time communication technologies like VoIP suffer a marked decrease in quality, with delays in data transfers interrupting the natural flow of conversation.
Cloud-based applications are affected
Even high-speed business fibre broadband can lead to compromised quality when your organisation uses a large number of cloud-based platforms and applications. Cloud computing often involves a lot of uploading data to the network as well as downloading. With the asymmetric nature of public broadband, you are therefore more likely to see a deterioration in performance when you are, say, uploading data to be saved on a remote server. For businesses operating large product catalogues on eCommerce sites, using cloud-based EPoS, ERP or CRM systems that are continually generating and saving data, or relying on cloud-based data backups for disaster recovery and failover protocols, a loss of bandwidth at peak times can lead to major operational issues.
So while broadband might represent a low cost and convenient option for getting your business online, it is often far from an ideal solution. The two main things that businesses need from their connectivity which broadband doesn’t deliver are guaranteed performance and service levels, and the ability to reliably handle a wide range of connectivity requirements beyond just accessing the internet.
An alternative to business broadband: Leased line connections
Leased Lines offer businesses guaranteed performance and service levels, and the ability to reliably handle a wide range of connectivity
A leased line is technically not just an internet connection, but a general purpose connectivity service that can be used for the internet, for local and wide area intranet networks (LANs and WANs), for voice and video calling, for connections to remote servers, for private cloud services and more.
Leased lines are what are known as dedicated services – private connections between your business and ISP, avoiding all public broadband infrastructure. This means leased lines are uncontended, i.e. there is no sharing of resources with other users – all bandwidth is made available to your business and your business only. The knock-on effects of this include the fact that ISPs can guarantee SLAs – whether the connection is capable of 10Mbps, 100Mbps or 1Gbps, this will never fluctuate depending on how many other users are online, and your service provider can make further guarantees about availability and uptime etc.
Only your business using the bandwidth available means that resources can be allocated to prioritise the most critical operations – VoIP, video conferencing, high capacity cloud services and so on.
Uncontended leased lines are much less prone to issues with latency and connection speeds and capacity remain stable even over long distances. Routing technologies like MPLS can be applied to improve the efficiency of resource allocation over complex networks, optimising the performance of applications. And that allocation of bandwidth includes balancing upload and download speeds – leased lines are symmetrical, so there is no penalty in performance for cloud-based operations that require plenty of upload capacity.