Broadband priority leaves small businesses in the slow lane

A recent paper published by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is damning in its finding that not only are broadband speeds and availability for small businesses poor but also that the commonly held conception that only rural areas suffer poor speed is somewhat of an incorrect assumption.

“many urban or semi-urban businesses can experience poor coverage too and even where broadband is available the range and quality of services often fall short of what businesses require. Tailored business packages offering symmetrical upload and download speeds are often prohibitively expensive, while business parks and premises have been overlooked in the roll-out of local fibre networks to residential areas.”

From our own business experience, as a provider of managed IT services, this is very true. We have clients in both Central London and near Heathrow with connection speeds of less than 4mb, but in a rural Cornwall village we have seen speeds of 60mb+.

The telecom providers are following the same model they did in the mobile phone market – concentrating on the consumer and ignoring business. They assume that small businesses have the same big pockets as big business but the reality is that many cannot afford either the capital expenditure or operating expenditure for a dedicated “leased line”.  While the industry is rolling out “Fibre to the cabinet” (FTTC, aka “Infinity” or Fibre Broadband) for consumers, only small businesses that are near a cabinet with residential properties have been able to benefit.

Ironically, businesses on trading estates and retail parks seem to be the most ignored. Fibre may pass the end of the estate but does not enter it, except for businesses wishing to put their hands in their pockets. Suppliers such as Openreach do not even then take this opportunity to install FTTC on the estate, leaving other businesses languishing with dire and unreliable internet access.

The UK Government target for business broadband is woefully inadequate, aiming to have 10mb available for every business by 2019. Not only is that too late, but it’s too little too late.  In Scandinavia, they are aiming for total 100mb coverage by 2020 while the FSB paper notes that S. Korea is planning 1000Mb (1Gb) for 90% of the population by 2017.

So what does this mean for businesses that are affected? Well as more and more business services become digital and The Cloud becomes ever more prevalent, companies and organisations without fast, reliable internet connections are going to get left behind. Whether you want to use internet to receive business applications and data (Software as a Service) – e.g. CRM or accounting software – or have clients with whom you wish to share data, these services are critical. Traditional low-cost business broadband has always been slower in the upload then download – something that was not a problem for web access but this is now hampering those businesses who need rapid upload speeds as well. Symmetrical broadband, where the upload speed is equal to the download or at the very least where the upload speed is significant, empowers businesses to file share, collaborate and even move to sensible I.T. strategies such as cloud-backup.

While the FSB are urging the government to look again at its ambitions and targets, there may be some action you can take if you are affected. Firstly and most urgently, if you are looking to relocate your business, for whatever reason or starting a new business, consider that fast broadband provision may be one of the most important factors in your decision making. We take it for granted that water, electricity and possibly gas should be available – but why choose premises with dismal broadband. Check with neighbouring businesses or ask for advice – it’s not about the town you are in but can come down to the street you are on which determines this availability.

If you have an established business premises, do not just rely on the advice of your current telco or broadband provider. While it is true that many broadband providers deliver their service to your premises via the same copper line (originally installed by BT), different locations can offer alternatives, including areas serviced by the cable TV companies and 4G from the mobile telephone companies.  You may not think that a mobile phone data service could work for a business that has a fixed office, but facilities are available to allow the 4G data network (and 3G at a push) to be shared amongst a small business team quite easily – even with wired desktop machines.

To read the FSB report “The fourth utility”, please click here:

To contact us for broadband advice and to explore your options, please get in touch.

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