Broadband, Dial-Up & ISDN
One of the key elements to the success of any business is the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently. Anything that can speed up the rate at which communications take place has to be given serious consideration. Using broadband technology is one such way that data communications can be radically improved.
Broadband gives you a high-speed, always-on connection to the Internet which is typically at least ten times faster than conventional dial-up connections. As well as being fast it can be highly cost-effective. It can save you time when using email and the web, thereby helping your staff to become more productive. In addition, it also allows you to build online links with customers and suppliers, as well as with off-site and home workers.
The term "broadband" is used to describe any high-speed connection to the Internet. However, there are in fact several different types of broadband connection available in the UK .
The main difference between broadband and traditional telephone communications is that broadband is based on digital technology, and the telephone is based on analogue technology. While analogue technology is fine for voice communications it has limitations when it comes to transmitting data. Digital technology is much more precise and accurate, which enables both higher speeds and greater reliability. Currently one of the most common forms of broadband in the UK is asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), which uses existing telephone lines.
With download speeds of typically 512kbps the key feature of broadband is that it is around ten times faster than a standard telephone dial-up connection to the Internet. This means that, in general, webpages load almost instantly. It also makes sending and receiving large emails far quicker, making it viable to transfer vast amounts of data in the form of attached files.
In addition, broadband connections are known as always-on connections. This means that when you want to visit a website, or send an email, you can do it straight away - there's no need to wait for your computer to make a dial-up connection.
Types of broadband
The type of broadband available to a business depends on its location. The most widespread form of broadband available is asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), as offered by many providers. In addition, broadband is available via cable, satellite and wireless in various parts of the country. Between ADSL, satellite, cable and wireless almost 100 per cent of the UK is covered.
ADSL makes use of existing telephone lines and you can receive it if your premises are near a broadband-enabled exchange.
If you can't get ADSL broadband, there are other options. Broadband is also available by cable in certain areas, and through satellite and wireless solutions in many areas not covered by ADSL and cable. However cable tends to be available only in densely populated domestic areas where it is primarily used to deliver TV services. As such it often does not reach business premises.
Although not strictly classed as broadband, the original BT-supplied integrated digital services network (ISDN) is still generally available and may prove adequate for many small businesses with modest data transfer requirements.
What broadband can do for your business
The speed of access and constant connection of broadband allow businesses to take greater advantage of the Internet in a number of ways, including:
Permanent connection to the Internet opens up opportunities for streamlining business processes. For example, you could link your online shop with accounting and stock control systems to cut administrative costs and improve efficiency. Linking your back-office systems to your website can help you do business more quickly and reduce administration costs. For example, you could automate tasks like transaction processing, order tracking and stock reordering.
Despite paying a flat fee for broadband access together with any charges associated with additional data transfers, businesses can save money while also making more use of the Internet. The cost of broadband will be balanced by saving time and resources - thanks to a more streamlined and efficient way of doing business.
Broadband can get you closer to your customers and suppliers. You can use it to offer customers round-the-clock access to account information, order status and project details. It can help you to improve customer service, allowing you to respond within minutes to emails from clients or orders placed through your website. You can link your computer systems with your suppliers, so you can place orders more quickly and efficiently. Suppliers can collect data to improve their service to you, leading to increased responsiveness to your needs.
As staff will be able to communicate increasingly via email, phone and postage bills can be reduced. You could use broadband to set up virtual private networks (VPNs) to allow off-site and home workers access to key data. Greater collaborative working and video conferencing may be possible, which could reduce courier and travel costs.
Some businesses manage with a basic dial-up package to connect to the Internet, paying for each call at local rates. While this can work for businesses that use the web only for occasional browsing, you may find that if you use it for more than a few hours a month, you could be better off with a different payment option. However, it is worth noting that reductions in the cost of broadband are making these dial-up packages less attractive.
Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer packages where you get free unmetered Internet access for a fixed fee every month. Expect to pay around £8-£11 per month. This is suitable if you anticipate using the Internet for longer periods.
Advantages of package deals
Cheaper than pay-as-you-go for heavier users of the Internet.
You can choose a package tailored to your requirements, such as all-day or off-peak only.
You can leave it on, so you don't have to keep connecting.
Disadvantages of package deals
Download times for larger files and emails are still slow - such packages still use the standard 56k modem.
Some ISPs have more users than they can cope with, leading to difficulties in signing on at peak times, and connections may be cut if there is a period of inactivity.
You must consider security, such as a firewall, if you leave the connection open all the time.
Some packages are not designed to meet normal business needs, for example they may prevent you from sending bulk emails.
There is a range of subscription packages where you pay a monthly fee and call costs. They cost about £100 a year. The benefit is that you often get a quicker more reliable service with good technical support and other services.
The disadvantages include potential additional costs if your business is not using the Internet for business-critical communication or information sharing.
The Integrated Services Digital Network is a set of communications standards allowing a single wire or optical fibre to carry voice, digital network services and video. Originally developed in the mid 1980s, and widely available, its appeal has waned with the growth of broadband technology.
Basic rate ISDN
ISDN primarily uses existing Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) switches and wiring, upgraded to provide all-digital end-to-end channels.
The basic rate ISDN service consists of two channels which effectively give you two separate telephone lines, enabling you to use one channel for voice and one for data. A single channel runs at a constant speed of 64 kbps which makes it at least 10 per cent faster than dial-up. In addition, the two ISDN channels can be "bonded" together to provide a single 128 kbps connection which is more than twice as fast as a normal dial-up connection. However, the use of each channel is charged separately and because you pay a higher call rate than with standard telephone lines, using "channel bonding" can be expensive.
Because it is a digital system ISDN doesn't use modems. Instead a device called a Terminal Adapter provides the interface between the computer and the ISDN line.
Higher specifications of ISDN are also available which allow up to thirty 64 kbps channels to be aggregated together to create a 2.04 Mbps connection.
Typical installation costs are between £75 to £100, with a typical monthly cost of £25 to £35.
Advantages of ISDN
Available to 97 per cent of the UK .
Provides two digital channels as standard.
Guaranteed data rates.
Disadvantages of ISDN
Technically only "midband", ie faster than a modem but much slower than broadband.
Expensive, considering its speed.
Generally requires on-site installation by an engineer.
Back to: Mobile Working