Fibre Internet – Small Business Questions

A high-speed internet connection is becoming more and more important for every business, even those who don’t think of themselves as high-tech. With everything from accounting software to word processing to backup moving online, small businesses need to ensure their internet connections can handle the pressure.

After years of waiting, fibre internet is now available to many South African businesses – but to get the most out of your investment, there are things you need to know before approaching your internet service provider.

1. Check Your Fibre Readiness

Fibre is available in most parts of most urban areas, but you’ll need to check before approaching a service provider. There are coverage maps here and here that will show you whether fibre is available at your address.

It’s useful to know that you will probably have to deal with two separate service providers: one to get the fibre connection from the street to your premises, and another one to actually provide an internet service over that connection.

And if there’s no fibre in your area yet, don’t despair – there are a range of alternative solutions including LTE cellular, microwave and other wireless solutions and even satellite. Your service provider should be able to advise you on the best choice to meet your business needs.

2. With Fibre Internet You Get What You Pay For

Your internet needs at work are very different from what’s needed at home, and there are very good reasons why a business-quality fibre connection will cost more than a home setup.

Having many people online at the same time, videoconferencing, online backup – it all means you need more than a simple connection. A good rule of thumb is that a 100Mbps business connection should cost somewhere between R10 000 to R20 000 a month. If anyone offers you much less and still promises a connection that is uncapped, unshaped, unrestricted or unlimited – look for the catch. You might find that a low-quality, unreliable internet connection costs you much more than you save.

3. Ask Your Internet Service Provider About Failover And Breakout

It never hurts to know the buzzwords. The connection between you and your internet service provider is known as the “last mile” link in the chain connecting you to the internet.

With fibre you can expect this to be blazingly fast. But what happens then? Your ISP needs to connect to someone else in turn; this is called “breakout”, and it’s really important to your experience. If your ISP is piling multiple customers onto the same block of breakout internet connection, you’ll never get the speeds your last-mile connection is capable of.  So, ask who is your ISP connecting to for the next link in the chain, and what quality of service are they getting? What guarantees can they pass on? Ask about the Service Level Agreement (SLA) they have with their own service provider.

You’ll also want to ask about failover, or what happens when (not if!) there’s a problem that interrupts a connection. Load shedding, for example, can cause havoc in networks if it lasts for long enough – generators will eventually run out of fuel.

If your business depends on reliable internet connectivity, you may want to consider a “dual connect” service that gives you access to two completely independent networks. If one goes down, the other will be able to take over.

4. Don’t Run Voice, Video And Data Over The Internet. Demand a VLAN.

Lags and dropped connections are good enough for a free service like Skype, but not for business-quality calls and videoconferencing. To get reliable service quality, you need to keep your voice and videoconferencing on a separate network (VLAN) from the rest of your data. Think of it as two or more separate roads out of the office, each dedicated to Internet, Voice (VoIP) or Video.

This means calls won’t be affected by heavy month-end data traffic, for example, or by the person who suddenly decides to upload their entire hard drive to Dropbox (it’s happened).

Some providers promise to fix these problems with intelligent networks and rules that prioritise certain kinds of network traffic, but we have seen this fail badly. In one case, we had a customer who lost service for two full weeks. Ask your service provider to give you a dedicated VLAN (virtual local area network) for voice.

5. Small Businesses Shouldn’t Sign A Fibre Contract Longer Than 12 Months

Data prices keep dropping, so resist pressure to sign a contract for longer than 12 months. You want to be able to take advantage of future price drops and keep your ISP on their toes. Two years is long enough for people to get a bit lazy or complacent. If they know the contract is up for renewal in less than a year, they have more incentive to keep their service levels excellent.

Looking for a small business fibre solution can be confusing as you try to make sense of all the jargon and conflicting information. A good ISP should be able to explain all the different options and help you decide exactly what the best option for your needs are. If they leave you confused or feeling too scared to ask questions – find another ISP.