It is impossible to do business in this day and age without reliable internet access. Even if you don't plan to have an online presence, you still need internet access for business communications, from using Voice over IP (VoIP) phone lines, to communicating with vendors and clients via email. If your business has multiple locations, you also need a way for the branches to communicate with each other, and with the home office, as well as access shared company data over a secure connection.
There are several internet options available for business use, and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Types of Internet Access
There are seven major types of internet access available to businesses:
- Integrated T1;
- Satellite, Microwave (or WiMax), Wireless 4G;
- DSL, Cable, and Fiber Optic.
Integrated T1 used to be the gold standard for business internet solutions. It provides both phone and Internet connectivity over one dedicated line, and is available from multiple carries like Qwest, Verizon, and AT&T.
The advantages to T1 connections are that they are wide available and you have dedicated bandwidth, which means you don't have to share with others. The fact that you don't have to share also makes your internet connection more secure. A T1 connection can also save you money on telecom costs because you can run multiple phone lines off one T1 line, rather than have multiple separate phone lines.
One of the biggest disadvantages to the T1 connection is that it is one of the most expensive options available, even with the telecom savings. Speed is another issue, as the average T1 like transmits at approximately 1.544 megabits per second (Mbps). However, there are also T2 and T3 lines that can transfer up to 44.736 Mbps.
Satellite, Microwave and Wireless 4G
Satellite, microwave, and wireless internet connections are similar in that they all pull signals from the air, instead of a wired connection like a T1 line.
Satellite and microwave both use dishes mounted outside your building to capture the signal, while wireless 4G uses cell phone technology. There are several different satellite, 4G, and microwave internet providers across the country that provide wireless connections. The biggest advantage that all these systems share is that you don't have to worry about having the correct wiring. Wired Technologies, like the T1, require the wires to already be in place for you to use the service.
If your business in located in a remote area, or in an area with older telecom cabling, you won't have the wiring you need. Satellite, microwave, and 4G don't need wires; they just need a good line of sight to establish a connection over the air. The lack of wiring also means that if you need to relocate your business, you can carry your internet with you.
Other advantages include fairly low initial costs, the ability to use VoIP and to transmit audio and video, and the fact that some providers offer dedicated bandwidth.
The major disadvantage to all three systems is the issue of interference. Because they need line of sight to make a connection, it's easy to lose your connection by having tree branches or clouds block the signal. Speeds can vary, depending on the provider, but some services can get speeds up to 70 Mbps. Some providers might also cap your data usage, meaning that you once you reach your limit you either have to buy more data, or they throttle your speed for the remainder of the month. This is not necessarily true for all companies, and you would need to check with each individual company to find out its policy on data caps.
Cable, DSL, Fiber Optics
Cable, DSL, and fiber optics are all wired technologies similar to the integrated T1; in fact, the integrated T1 could use some of same wiring.
- Cable uses copper coaxial cable to transmit the internet signal;
- DSL uses copper phone lines; and
- Fiber optics uses light filaments.
There are several Cable, DSL, and fiber optics providers across the country, including Time Warner, Comcast, your local phone company, and Google Fiber.
Although all three technologies are similar, they each have different advantages.
- The advantage to cable and DSL is that they are both available anywhere that you have standard telephone or cable lines.
- The advantage to fiber optics and cable is that they both offer speeds up to 50 Mbps, and some areas can even achieve speeds up to 100 Mbps.
- The advantage to all three is that they are relatively inexpensive as compared to an integrated T1.
- Fiber optic, DSL, and Cable can all transmit audio and video and support VoIP.
All three technologies have different disadvantages as well.
- The biggest disadvantage to fiber optic is the lack of availability. In order to make the service available, companies either have to use existing fiber optic lines, or run new line where there are none. This can be an expensive and time-consuming process, which means there could be areas within the same city that don't have it because the company has not gotten around to installing the lines.
- The biggest disadvantage to DSL is the speed. While it is much faster than dial-up, it's much slower than cable or fiber optic.
- The biggest disadvantage to cable is the lack of competition. Currently, the two major providers are Time Warner and Comcast. There are some smaller internet providers, like Earthlink, but many of them actually lease their bandwidth from Time Warner or Comcast.
- The disadvantage to all three is that they use shared bandwidth, which means you have to share with every other subscriber in your area, which could lower your connection speed during peak hours — which is why these services advertise speeds up to a certain number. However, there are some companies that could offer dedicated connections.