Small Business Internet Access and Services
Depending on your business and its customer base, high-speed Internet access and online services are probably the most important service your small business depends on. Small businesses of all types increasingly rely on the Internet to communicate with customers and prospects, and to deliver a wide range of services and content.
As more small businesses use cloud-based services to handle many key company functions, including their phone systems, the speed and reliability of their Internet connections have become critical.
Most ISPs offer speeds listed in two numbers that represent the download and upload speeds of your connection. A 25/10 connection, for instance, is designed for two to four users and devices with average data needs, while a 75/15 connection could support up to 10 users of high-intensity applications.
Some ISPs offer fiber-optic connections that offer faster and more stable connections, but those aren't available in many areas.
Most small businesses enjoy cost savings and convenience by ordering their Internet service from the same provider that supplies their telephone service. Under typical arrangements, they receive discounted rates by bundling their communications services, and gain the convenience of dealing with one provider.
Which is the best package for your business? While people never complain that their Internet connection is too fast, a slower and less expensive package may meet your needs. The answer depends on how you will use the Internet -- if your daily needs are generally confined to email and basic Web research, a more affordable connection may be fine.
But if you typically share large documents or presentation files with customers, or take part in Web conferences, you may need the additional bandwidth and support that faster connections offer.
Depending on the importance of the Internet to your business, you may want to have more than one Internet access connection. Some companies use a fast connection from their main provider as their primary Internet service, and keep a slower connection that is used mostly as a backup.
Outside the office, many Internet service providers allow free or discounted access to Wi-Fi hotspots as part of your service bundle.
Internet access also comes with a number of bundled or add-on services designed to increase convenience and the online safety of small businesses. Common examples include the following:
Voice Calls and Advanced Features
A growing number of small businesses are taking advantage of VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) technology to gain sophisticated calling features. In addition to cost savings, VoIP’s digital nature allows providers to include advanced calling features such as caller ID, three-way calling, call forwarding and other services as part of the basic service plan.
Most Internet providers also offer cloud-based security services as part of their business-oriented broadband offerings. Using hosted services allows business owners to shift the need to maintain and update security applications to their provider, which will likely be better able to monitor security patches and emerging threats.
Under a hosted security service, for instance, spam messages and emails with viruses or other threats are intercepted and blocked before they reach your company’s email server.
Some of the services you’ll want to look for include:
- Anti-spam: Blocks incoming messages based on content, formatting techniques and domains commonly used by spammers. In most instances, you will have access to an online archive of the blocked messages in case you need to recover a legitimate message that was accidentally flagged as spam and blocked (“known as a ‘false positive’”). You can assign users to a “white list” of senders whose messages always get through.
- Antivirus: Defends against known and emerging viruses, bots (automatic programs) and other online threats, and blocks unexpected or unusual network behavior to make sure it does not represent a threat.
- Desktop Firewall: Provides an additional layer of defense for PCs (desktops and laptops) in addition to your network’s firewall or the firewall maintained by your Internet service provider.
Every company knows how important it is to back up systems and data, especially critical customer information and business records. Even so, the gap between understanding the need to back up your data and actually doing so remains wide for most companies. To help automate the backup process and provide secure storage of important documents, a number of providers are offering online backup services that automatically encrypt data and transfer it to a remote server for secure storage.
If something happens to your office or network equipment, or if you need to recover documents from a remote location (such as after a natural disaster), online backup provides secure access to your stored files without your having to worry about recovering hard drives or backup tapes.
Depending on the volume of data being transferred, the initial online backup can take several days or more than a week. Once the initial backup is complete, future backups will usually only transfer files that have been changed, so subsequent backups will take much less time.
Once you’ve set up an automated backup system, you should make sure that it is working as planned. It’s important to occasionally check the software logs to ensure that files are being transferred, and to recover a document to make sure you can do so after an emergency. If something has gone wrong with your backup system or software, you do not want to find out after your original data has already been lost.