How to choose the right Internet for your small business

August 17, 2016 Brian Kozak

With a lot of options out there, here’s the help you’ve been looking for.

How to choose the best Internet How do you choose the best Internet service for your small business? And how do you decide which Internet Service Provider (ISP) to go with?

Every business can have different needs, so the bounty of options can be daunting. You know – figuring out the right speed, payment plan, add-ons and service provider that will actually satisfy your boss, employees, HR, execs and everyone who has an opinion on the matter.

“The top three concerns we hear from our customers are speed, network and technical support,” says Kyle Jemison, MTS Business Market Manager. “But there are many other factors to consider.”

At the heart of it, your customers, suppliers and employees need a quick, reliable way of keeping in touch through your website, mobile apps, live chat and social media networks. Your goal is to find the solution that meets this demand.

Q1. What types of Internet service are available?

Business Internet service often falls under three buckets.

1. DSL

2. Cable

3. Fibre

In some instances, businesses in smaller and more remote communities may get their Internet service wirelessly through cellular networks or satellite. This can be a good option when other services aren't available, although typically wireless services tend to be more expensive and less reliable than a wired network.

Let's take a closer look at each of the three main options.

1. DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)

DSL service is the most common Internet connection in Manitoba right now, and there are multiple options, so we cover this in more detail.

Essentially, DSL connects to the Internet via the telephone lines that come into your business for landline phones. Computers are then connected to the phone line with a DSL modem.

The speeds at which these modems send and receive data vary from small to large (Kbps to Mbps, or kilobits per second up to megabits per second).

Tip: Look at both download and upload speeds. Download speeds are generally higher, as this is where the majority of your employee usage will come from. Downloads include activities like surfing the web, reading email and viewing video files. Upload speeds refer to loading files to the Internet, like when you add files to Dropbox or your company FTP, and these speeds are often lower as the priority is given to downloading.

There are different types of DSL available as well, so look out for these options:

  • Asymmetric DSL (ADSL), in which upload and download speeds are different
  • Symmetric DSL, where both are the same speed
  • MTS offers a VDSL2 (very-high-bit-rate digital subscriber line) network to deliver high-speed Internet, MTS Ultimate TV and telephone service. VDSL2 uses existing copper wires (originally set up for telephone service) to deliver high-speed Internet service.

Although very common and reliable, DSL service can be impacted by certain factors.

  • If your phone line goes down for some reason, like during a major storm, your Internet service will also be unavailable.
  • DSL service uses very fast and reliable fibre for the backbone of the network, and this fibre connects to neighbourhood ‘cabinets,’ which then connect to individual businesses with copper wire. As a result, if you are located far from the cabinet your service could be slightly slower than a closer location.

2. Cable

With this type of Internet, your service is delivered via coaxial cables to a cable modem in your business.

Cable speeds are shared across multiple users and the system is designed to distribute access evenly. Generally, cable is slightly faster than DSL, but if an overabundance of users begin to share the system are accessing an overly high amount of data, the service can slow down for everyone.

3. Fibre

Fibre service connects to the Internet through fibre optic cables. Fibre service is incredibly fast, delivering Internet speeds of up to 1 Gbps, and it is not affected by weather. That’s a bonus when it comes to our temperamental climate.

Higher bandwidth is also possible with fibre, meaning download speeds are significantly faster. That translates into faster productivity for your team – so nobody can complain about a slow connection (at least they better not!).

Fibre is currently available in certain locations because special equipment is required to connect from the cabinets (previously mentioned) to your business. Check with your ISP to see if this is an option for your business location.

Q2. What Internet speed does my business need?

Ever get frustrated working on an important deliverable only to be slowed down waiting for a file to download? Time is money so make sure you’re not overly conservative on selecting a speed.

Most ISPs offers a selection of speed ranges which can satisfy both small businesses and enterprises.

On the lighter side, download speeds can get up to 20 Mbps and upload speeds around 2 Mbps. These are ideal for small businesses with basic Internet activity and can meet the needs of most small businesses, depending on their frequency online.

If your business is quite active and needs more bandwidth, you can usually step up to the range of 50 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload speeds.

Your ISP should help you select the plan that works best for your business needs, so ask them to walk you through the possible plans based on speed.

Tip: Ask your ISP specifically about throttling and bandwidth caps. Will your ISP slow your download rate based on time of day? Jemison notes that MTS Business Internet does not have any caps on bandwidth, which can be helpful when businesses aren’t sure of how much Internet usage they’ll have from month to month.

If you are unsure about how much data your business might use, take into account the number of employees at your business and the types of activities they perform online. For example, a media company will likely have a larger need for Internet speed than a convenience store. Visit the MTS Internet Data Usage Calculator to get an estimate of your requirements.

If your business has multiple locations that need high speed and extreme security, some ISPs offer dedicated Internet plans that offer guaranteed speeds on a separate network. These networks aren’t connected to the Internet at large, so you’ll find your service is even more reliable and secure. If you have very high data usage, like for media companies who upload and download files on a regular basis, then this is an option you may want to consider. Or if you deal with highly sensitive customer data and information, you can offer further assurance and protection with this type of connection.

            MTS has a full range of Internet plans available.                                                              

            Visit the MTS Dedicated plans for options perfected for large or growing businesses.     

Q3. What support does the ISP offer?

If your business relies upon the Internet, there’s a lot at stake if you lose your connection. Find out if your ISP has a Service Level Agreement (SLA) that will provide a guideline for the security and “uptime” for your Internet service.

“Support is a key selling point for business Internet,” says Jemison. “Customers appreciate the fact that when they call tech support it’s actually someone in Manitoba who’s answering their call and helping them out.”

Ask if your ISP has dedicated 24/7 support lines for business customers. If there is ever an issue with your connection, you’ll want to speak to someone about it fast, and not risk getting an automated recording or waiting on hold for hours.

Q4. What other services are available?

Choosing a provider these days includes more than just connecting you to the Internet. And you can look to your ISP to deliver additional services you may need to connect with customers, suppliers and other offices.

Jemison says MTS recently launched Business Bundles (in Winnipeg, Brandon and Portage la Prairie) with three different options for wireless, VDSL2 Internet and phone plans.

“Bundling these services offer significant savings for small businesses and the simplicity of dealing with one provider for all of your essential business needs.”  

If your ISP can bundle services, you’ll get more stable pricing over the term of your contract, so you can focus on your business and not worry about cost fluctuations. Bundling also gives you simplicity – if you need all these services, why piece them together from different providers when one company can supply them all?

ISPs can also offer web hosting plans so you can create and maintain your own website. Packages can include email service that come with templates and personalized addresses such as “me@mybusiness.com.” If you go this route, find out where your emails, calendar and contact lists are hosted. It’s comforting to have these hosted locally in Canada and accessible across all devices.

Q5: Should I sign up for monthly plans or a contract?

This is an age-old question, and for good reason. We all want to make sure we get the best value for money, and when it comes to business that’s a necessity.

Deciding on a signed contract with an ISP or a month-to-month agreement is tough, and there are advantages to both.

Being a month-to-month customer gives you the flexibility to switch plans and providers. But jumping from provider to provider could mean costly downtime and considerable effort scheduling an appointment for the new vendor to install their equipment.

On the other hand, signing a contract often gives you a shopping list of extras like business email, equipment installation, dedicated tech support, service level agreements (SLAs) and advanced security.

“Signing a contract can also save your company money in the long-run and give you price certainty for the duration of the contract. The longer the contract, the greater the savings,” Jemison says.

But contracts mean you are committing to a certain period of time, and some companies don’t like that aspect.

To decide, create a chart with your potential costs for both options. Compare apples to apples by determining your total costs over the course of the contract length you’d consider.

For example, if you’re considering a three-year contract versus month-to-month, calculate the price for each over the course of three years. Add in costs of business email and any extras you might need if you go month-to-month. And don’t forget to factor in costs based on the time it would take to renegotiate contracts, switch providers or deal with service disruptions if that comes into play. When you compare these two columns, your decision should become clearer.

Q6. What do I do if our business grows or technology changes?

Selecting an ISP also requires you to think about the future – for your business and the Internet – in order to make sure you’re prepared for future growth. Make sure your ISP is staying on top of the trends.

One example is Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), which makes a virtually unlimited number of IP addresses available. By comparison, the older protocol, called IPv4, only allowed 4.3 billion unique addresses. That number may seem like a lot, but due to the number of computers, tablets and smartphones that flooded the market, these addresses have been running out. And with the Internet of Things we now have everyday items like TVs, watches, fridges, cars and thermostats that are network-connected, so the new IPv6 will offer a solution. By choosing an ISP that is on top of these trends, you'll have more reassurance in your decision.

As for your business, make sure that your ISP can help you scale your service if your staff grows. Will your bandwidth be sufficient or is a different plan required? Does your networking equipment need to be upgraded and will they act as your partner to make sure your business is set up for success?

“Typically, the better the network you’re on, the easier it is to expand when your business expands,” says Jemison. “For example, when you sign up for a fibre-based business plan here, it’s easier to upgrade your bandwidth as your business grows in the future. On the DSL side it’s definitely possible, although depending on your business location there may be other considerations that come into play. So it’s important to discuss expansion options with your ISP when you’re getting started.”

Find out how long it takes for the ISP to help with installation and expansion, so you’re prepared when that time comes.

Most importantly, ask a lot of questions. Keep the important items above in mind when you talk to providers and get all the details directly from your reps. Jot down notes, compare service and make sure you’re comfortable with the decision – it’s an important one for your business. Your ISP should be happy to work with you and help determine the best solution for your business.

Whether you choose MTS Business Internet or another service provider, we want you to get the right solution for your business. Read on for more hot topics about connectivity for Manitoba business.

About the Author

Brian Kozak

Brian Kozak is a Winnipeg writer who has been working online since 1997 when he developed content for Manitoba’s Flood of the Century website. Recently retired from MTS, he keeps his finger on the pulse of current tech trends. He's long said goodbye to the fax machine and overhead projector, but needs more time to think about ditching his trusty fountain pen.

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