One of the first things we determine with any new prospective customer is the quality of their internet connection. Upload and download are important depending on what IT and technology services you are looking to run. An internet phone system (VoIP) needs good upload for decent call quality; while cloud document storage needs good download to perform efficiently. And one thing we have learnt is the market isn’t necessarily the best at explaining in clear terms what customers are getting when they order certain products.
“We’ve got fibre” is what we are often told by prospective customers. Except they often haven’t. Not really in our book at least. What they have got is Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) and not Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) or Fibre to the Home (FTTH). And you might wonder why that matters? That last little bit of connection is copper wire and Government acknowledged recently in the Future Telecoms Review that copper is no longer fit for purpose for anyone wanting to operate in the modern Digital Economy. There are three main issues with that piece of copper and both significantly affect small businesses and those who run businesses from home:
The degradation of copper over distance: Unless you’re right on top of the cabinet you will experience a degradation of performance on your connectivity along that ‘last mile’ of copper wire. Both upload and download. Get far enough from the cabinet and you might as well not call it ‘Fibre’ at all as you’re talking ADSL speedsThere is no Service Level Agreement on copper: We experienced this ourselves at Emerald. We are right on top of the cabinet so we thought FTTC would be great for us. Except that last bit of copper wire (no more than 100 yards in length) kept failing. And we kept losing performance. We prioritised crucial services on our network so what happened was our Facebook Lives kept dropping out. Not the end of the world agreed; but hugely embarrassing for an IT company trying to market our services! 18 engineer visits later it was clear that nothing was going to get resolved any time soon and, with no Service Level Agreement on performance, there was nothing we could do. In response, we bought a dedicated fibre optic connection from the cabinet to our premises paying install costs and around £300 per month for our 200Mbps dedicated speed and 1Gbps future capacity. There are vouchers available for this although (as with any Government money!) there are limitations which I will mention later
Copper is not future-proof: We cannot add any more resource to copper. What you have it what you have and the network is struggling.
Broadband speed/performance is one of the most frequent complaints we hear from small businesses and those running companies from home. How can Emerald implement new cloud storage, VoIP phone systems, and digital ways of working if the internet connectivity cannot keep up? It’s like trying to run motorway traffic on a B road. Frustrating is not strong enough!
How do you improve your digital connectivity?
What can you do as a small business or someone who works from home to improve your digital connectivity? The good news is the answer is no longer just buy a very expensive dedicated fibre optic cable, which is cost-prohibitive to most of the above. That said, dedicated leased lines, as they are known, have also come down in both installation and monthly costs and we recommend exploring them still as an option based on business need.
Following the Future Telecoms Review, Government have allocated significant amounts of money to the Local Full Fibre Network Programme (LFFN) and Coventry, Solihull, Warwickshire, and Wolverhampton have secured just shy of £10m collectively. They must use this money to connect public building to public building (I believe much of the work is looking at connecting schools) and then the idea is the commercial providers use these fibre connections as a trunk to run their own to business premises and homes in the local area. Complicated State Aid rules mean they can’t advertise or insist on this from the commercial providers, but it’s still good that it is happening. Keep an eye out in our local area, especially if you are in North Warwickshire, Wolverhampton, or a patch of Coventry or Solihull or South Warwickshire with poor broadband coverage now. Chances are it will be getting better soon!
What are the benefits of the Gigabit Voucher Scheme?
Government also offer a Gigabit Voucher scheme for Fibre to the Premises (£3,000) and Fibre to the Home (£500) to cover install costs. The scheme has its limitations as mentioned above, and Emerald didn’t use it ourselves, but it’s worth taking a look at https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk/for-businesses/case-studies/
You have to use a framework supplier, and that may not always suit, and the voucher doesn’t come to you as the business but direct to the supplier. If the install costs are less than the voucher amount (£3,000 business or £500 home) then the supplier *should* pass on any additional saving on installation to you in the monthly fee. We’ve seen this happen and not happen so it’s worth pushing it.
What can you do if you are digitally isolated?
For ‘digitally isolated’ areas, Openreach has introduced the Community Fibre Partnerships. This works well in villages or on rural business estates as vouchers are combined together to provide the fibre trunk into the area for everyone to benefit from. Again, there are limitations as I believe there needs to be a lead ‘tenant’ which is easier if you have a Residents Association or management committee that acts on behalf of residents or businesses. You can find out more information here:
Why should I invest in my digital future?
It’s not often that we agree with Central Government, but on digital connectivity we are on the same page. We all need to invest in Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) because it’s the only way to truly future-proof your connectivity. How important is the internet to your business today? How would you function 4 hours, 8 hours, 24 hours, or a whole week without it? And our dependency on digital is only going to increase. We believe every business should invest in an enterprise-level of connectivity today to keep you operational now and to give you the capacity for future growth. This is going to cost more than cheap consumer broadband; but the good news is more alternative providers like Glide and City Fibre have created more competition and better pricing. Even dedicated lease lines are now much more affordable than they used to be. At Emerald, we will always recommend the most cost-effective connectivity for your business and that you give your digital infrastructure the level of investment it requires.
You can find more information about the Government’s digital investment here:
Want to know more about your digital connectivity options? Call Emerald on 01926 452462