Not all broadband is created equal

Cables - what to look for in the flooded broadband market
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Not all broadband is created equal.

There are now more varieties, speeds, infrastructure types and providers than ever before. So how do you go about choosing what option is right for your business or home office whilst cutting through all the marketing noise surrounding this variety of choice? Our broadband usage has changed over the last few years with one major shift seeing a move towards more real time applications. Many of us will be suffering from some sort of zoom fatigue from all the professional and personal interactions that have taken place over a webcam. Most of us have also been accessing applications that would usually have been local (e.g., an RDP server, Phone System) or that we would have been accessing over a business grade line from the office.

About the author

Dominic Norton is the Sales Director for Spitfire Network Services.

Two differentiators exist between residential use and business use - expectation of performance and the type of performance needed. If you are on a zoom call doing a pub quiz with friends, then a patch of poor quality might lead to you missing a question or two but is unlikely to be a major issue. The same issue in business context might be the difference between winning or losing a client. The type of performance needed comes down to whether the application you are using needs real time performance. If you are using Netflix or BT Sport at home, it doesn’t matter if you are a few seconds behind the action because the content has buffered. However, if you are editing a document remotely or on a business call then suddenly those delays become a real headache.

Is speed king?

The residential sector's main marketing focus is speed. However, headline speeds are no guarantee of high performance for applications that are expected to work consistently or that need real time performance. Think of it as the difference between transporting some cake mix the day before the wedding vs the wedding cake on the day itself. For the cake mix you might as well stick it in the back of a Ferrari in rush hour as it doesn’t matter how or when it arrives. If it gets damaged on the way, then another can be sent. However, if you are transporting a finished wedding cake then speed is less important than getting it there in one piece. Don’t get drawn in by headline speeds - dig a little deeper into actual circuit performance (the type of performance you actually need).

What is best for you? Start by assessing the minimum speed you need and then the type of performance you require. If you are just browsing the internet and using applications locally you probably don’t need high speed or high performance. If you video call clients, use key business applications remotely or use anything that needs real time performance, then service level agreements (performance SLAs) should be addressed as a priority. These are ultimately what your provider is beholden to. Things like jitter, latency and packet loss dictate the minimum performance levels you can expect on the circuit whilst getting assurances on the key conditions that deliver high performance.

All about those SLAs

Digging into the performance SLAs is vital. Some application providers will quote minimum performance levels required for their application to work - these will often take the format of bandwidth required and performance levels for jitter, latency and packet loss. If your circuit doesn’t meet these performance levels, then it doesn’t matter how fast it is. The performance SLAs of a circuit indicate that you are getting the performance levels needed to provide a consistent high quality user experience.

A good example of this is to compare two services that both use fiber to the local cabinet in the street and then copper into the building. In this example, one of the services has very strong performance SLAs as it uses different infrastructure to get back to the core network (FTTC Ethernet) and the other has no performance SLAs so really isn’t suitable for the kind of real time processing previously discussed (FTTC Broadband). Such a fundamental difference can only be uncovered by looking at the performance SLAs on the circuit - it’s essential that these are reviewed and match your requirements.

And don’t forget support

An important factor that can get overlooked is the level of support on the service. This can be split into two elements - one, the support level on the actual circuit (fix time), and the second, how easy it is to actually get support. Once again, the requirements here will differ compared to a home connection. If your connection is down and all you wanted to do was watch Netflix, this probably wouldn’t ruin your evening. However, If your connection goes down at the point of discussing a proposal with a new client, this certainly creates a problem. It’s really important to understand what the fix time would be if your connection goes down. What obligations does your provider have? Plan for how you would work if the connection goes down and look at backup circuit options? For peace of mind, understand what the support is actually like, for example, can you speak to someone easily if you have an issue? Are they able to actually fix the issue or will you get put on hold or endlessly transferred around? If you call back will they have a record of your conversation or are you starting from scratch?

Understanding where the support team is based and what their usual pick up and resolution times are is very useful. You can always give the support number a ring and see if you get put into a queue or if someone picks up. Then ask yourself if that is the experience you want if something does go wrong.

Broadband selection criteria vary massively between residential and commercial. Your business can’t afford to put up with your everyday household broadband scenario - there is much more at risk if things run inefficiently, slowly or not at all. Think carefully about all the factors discussed before you take the plunge.

Dominic Norton

Dominic Norton is the Sales Director for Spitfire Network Services.