Small Business Saturday Blog

A guide to small business broadband and the Government voucher scheme

Monday, February 16 at 09:31Getting Online | Start-Up Support

Internet access is absolutely vital to today’s businesses, and not just for firms that operate exclusively online. With everything from ordering stock to handling taxes now streamlined by online services it’s a major boon to companies of any size.

But despite its importance to modern life the UK’s broadband infrastructure lags behind many other parts of the world. There are numerous areas across the country where broadband speeds may struggle to exceed a few megabits, and rural locations in particular may be saddled with very poor connectivity.

But help is at hand thanks to the Broadband Voucher Scheme. This government funded project aims to improve connectivity for firms across the country by providing financial assistance toward broadband upgrades.

What is the broadband voucher scheme, and how can it benefit your business?

To encourage businesses to improve their broadband, the government is offering a grant worth between £100 and £3,000 toward the cost of an upgrade.

Businesses in qualifying areas that meet the terms of the voucher scheme can use this grant to help pay for the cost of setting up a faster broadband link. The scheme is not limited to a particular type of broadband; there are 650 registered suppliers involved in the voucher scheme so it can be used for all types of services including fibre optic, cable and leased lines.

It’s open to small and medium enterprises in 22 cities across the country, and there’s no such thing as too small - home businesses can get involved too.

To find out if you could take advantage visit the Connection Voucher web site and check the eligibility criteria. Provided you meet these terms you can get the process started right away.

What are the options for business broadband? 

Businesses have a wide choice of broadband services available. As well as using the same technology as home broadband they can also get access to other types of connections geared specifically toward professional use.

Using standard phone lines, ADSL broadband can deliver speeds up to 17Mb down and around 1Mb up. It’s widely available and cheap, however the actual performance can vary depending on line quality and distance from the exchange so may be much slower, and even at its best it’s not really fast enough for many companies. Sole traders or small firms will manage, but the connection is quickly saturated by multiple users and the upload speed could be a hindrance.

There are some types of ADSL which are specifically meant for businesses. Annex-M is a variation of ADSL which trades download speed for upload speed, making large file transfers easier, and bonded DSL combines two lines into one faster connection.

Fibre optic
Offering much faster download and upload speeds than ADSL, fibre is excellent for both small and medium businesses, and availability is improving all the time. The fibre network provided by BT in the UK is widespread, and while the maximum speed of 76Mb is a far cry from the gigabit offered by ‘pure fibre’ networks (like the famous Google Fibre in the US), upgrades are ongoing and should shortly provide much better speeds.

There are other fibre providers apart from BT, such as Hyperoptic in London and Gigler in Bournemouth, but they presently cover a very small area. If available though your business could enjoy a blazing fast 1 gigabit link!

Cable broadband
Virgin Media cable broadband is on offer to around 60% of the population and although it’s best known for its consumer services, business broadband is also available. Virgin offers a product up to the same maximum download speed as its best consumer service (a rapid 152Mb), but they also provide very fast dedicated lines for businesses with heavier demands.

Some providers offer a wireless internet service that avoids phone lines and delivers internet access with a wide area wireless signal to an externally mounted receiver. If your fixed line options are limited this can be a cost effective way of getting faster internet without the compromises of satellite or mobile broadband. The only catch is availability: such services are largely offered by smaller internet firms and tend to be fairly limited in reach.

Satellite broadband
Satellite internet can be used anywhere in the country so long as you can mount a dish, a huge advantage over every other service that relies on fixed lines or wireless transmission. It’s also not too expensive. But download speeds are limited to around 20Mb and - perhaps more concerning for businesses - upload speeds and latency are a major weak spot, which is a problem for sending large files or using applications like Skype.

Mobile broadband
It’s not hindered by the need for a telephone line so mobile broadband could be a very attractive proposition for businesses that are in an area underserved by fixed line providers, or for anyone who would like a portable broadband connection. But the speed of the connection can be highly variable and limited data caps mean heavy users will have to pay extra.

Leased lines
Internet leased lines are dedicated business connections aimed at firms which demand consistent and reliable connectivity. This can be very expensive, but you’ll get what you pay for and it comes with an uptime guarantee and a very high level of support for business-critical applications.

By Matt Powell, editor for Broadband Genie


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