If I had the time to spend investigating more robust solutions I would, but lets say I have 2 weeks to pick a provider and get set up and you have no idea what you are doing or what you need.
I would personally get myself a PAYG/1 Month Rolling 4G sim card and a router that is both 4G capable and ADSL capable for about £2-300 (ASUS and Draytek have some good offerings).
What you will find in business is, per user you use very little data compared to what you use at home. Per user you require a lot less speed than you need at home.
Your speed and issues are more likely to result from bad infrastructure as opposed to ‘slow internet speeds’, so we need a decent router whatever we do as in a work environment, even a 2mbps line can be made to provide a decent service for several users.
Most routers are pretty much wizard based set ups and not too complicated to deploy, but what we want to look out for when we purchase one is this (the rest won’t mean to much to your bog standard user).
This for most will be a short term solution, what you are buying here is time.
So, if it is a 1 month rolling contract and say costs £60-80 per month, once you have your permanent solution in place, you no longer need this Sim Card.
So for business broadband over a phone line, you would likely be paying £60 per month anyway. So this has no additional cost, but having it set up day 1 on a solution you know works adds huge business continuity benefits in the long wrong, even if you terminate the 4G contract after your fixed line is set up, you know you can always pick a SIM card from a store and get some working service going if you need to.
But what is really important is the router that we purchase, arguably your most important investment for a small business, so let’s have a look at some of the settings we should look for in a router.
Even if you do not or cannot set these services up yourselves, these are the bog standard services you need for someone like me to fix issues you have at a later date.
All you really need day 1 is the settings applied to the router by default.
When a service provider in Telecoms says “Router comes configured”, we are talking about filling in 3 or 4 fields on the router, the rest is done for plug and play functionality.
So it isn’t too difficult for anyway to set up a router to work for any broadband service.
Speeds and Wifi
For the Lan and WiFi speeds, look for the word “Gigabit”
For the WiFi, look for 2.4 GHz and 5GHz
Often you will need to go to the provider page to see what settings are actually available, so find a model at a reasonable price range £200-300, then google the router and find the supplier.
The other settings we are looking for are
Fixed line and 4G Capable
This means you can connect a 4G sim card and a fixed line service to the router.
In short, your fixed line is going to be what you want to use when the service is working. But if there is an issue with the fixed line you would switch over to the 4G.
You don’t need to have the 4G monthly contract always on and paid for, you can get a temporary service from almost any shop nowadays, just make sure you plan ahead.
If your line goes down, you can pick up a data SIM from most supermarkets on the till.
If you have a 4G and Fixed line router, then dependent on how good the load balancing is on the router you can you can have both running simultaneously and route traffic over the different services.
For a small business, this is only of real value if you kept the 4G SIM card active and ready for failover. You may as well get the benefit of using it if it is just sitting there doing nothing.
However, be aware of data limits, as if you do failover you may have used some of the data allowance.
This would be the failover method between the fixed line service and the 4G service. So you may not want load balancing but you may still want the 4G to automatically kick in when the fixed line goes down.
Instant recovery, but provided the router is 4G and Fixed line capable then manual recovery is not too taxing, so not a huge priority.
QoS (Quality of Service)
The way this works and how this term is applied varies on routers, so I am going to use its simplest form.
This is prioritising traffic types. For example, VoIP uses low bandwidth but you may want to make it a high priority traffic type so that it is less likely to be impacted by other devices.
This can help to
- Keep your services up and running.
- Manage overheads (using this can keep the cost of broadband bandwidth down)
- Protect one service from another
Device Bandwidth Management (this is arguably the most important service)
Often included as part of the QoS service, but sometimes separate in the menus.
This service allows limits to be put in place, like maximum and minimum bandwidth allowance.
The level of granularity we want here is device level, as that often comes with the ability to group devices. You would be looking for a statement along the lines of
“Configure Device Bandwidth Management by MAC address”
For example, take all of the VoIP handsets and put them in a group. Give them X upload and X Download minimum values to protect phone calls.
This service is what keeps a business on a basic line, instead of paying well over the odds for a bandwidth amount that they simply do not need and physically cannot use.
In some way shape or form, you need to be able to see the traffic upload/download going through the router.
When you have issues, this is how you start to identify whether it is usage or whether it is the line.
If it is usage, you can then start to use the other services listed above to ensure that your service is not impacted as severely.
Now after Router comes Switches, at a small business level a switch really isn’t doing anything
The most important thing I can stress about switches is, it would be incredibly rare to find a small business that needs and expensive switch. You purchase one, but it won’t do anything for a small or even medium business over a cheaper switch.
For your needs, it is pretty much “the router only has 4 LAN ports, I need to have more”
Buying a £500+ switch adds very little value to your business as the extra money doesn’t really count towards switching capability at this level.
Speed – Make sure it says Gigabit and 10/100/1000
For most businesses, 10/100 is also fine, certainly if the switch is only going to be used for IP phones.
You can get a Gigabit switch for a reasonable price, so you may as well shop around.
POE – this is power over Ethernet, this is only required for Physical IP Handsets
Brands – Linksys, Netgear, TP-Link, Zyxel these are small business switches. Avoid HP and Cisco, you will likely pay for something you cannot get the benefits of
The only real consideration you have for a small business is business continuity and installation
Installation Rack mount – This means it can be installed in your cabinet, 1 U means it takes the space of 1 rack mount item.
Installation Unmanaged, easy installation, plug and play – This is something we want for the vast majority of small businesses and medium businesses as at this level the switch really isn’t doing anything fancy. The work is being done on the router.
Business Continuity – What this means is “What happens if my switch breaks”
So lets say we have 20 desks
Each desk has a computer
Each desk has a physical phone
So that is 40 devices without peripheral devices like printers and meeting room equipment.
So we could buy 1 x 48 port gigabit POE switch for a reasonable cost.
However, if that switch breaks, what that means is that we lose all services.
2 x switches with half POE and Half Ethernet ports, like this one below, on the other hand, that provides us with business continuity.
The way you manage continuity is by taking all of your functioning staff and splitting them evenly
For example – 6 sales, 4 customer service, 4 admin, 2 Exec and 2 “other” would mean that each switch has
3 Sales, 2 Customer service, 2 admin, 1 Exec, 1 “Other” for both their phones and computers.
Each switch connects directly back to the router.
This then reduces single points of failure and makes defect finding easier, e.g.
If all your staff cannot work, you know it is either the Router or the Broadband connection
If 1/2 your staff cannot work, you know it is a switch.
The other option here, if you do not require POE for phones (usually when the phones have a local power supply or you have a port based phone system) is to get 2 x 24 port switches, which you can find for roughly £80 Each
Now the size of the switches I have quoted are arbitrary, you would need switches to suit your requirements and future requirements. But if you had 10 staff members today, both with phones and desktops, then peripheral devices, I would still get 2 x 24 port POE switches per the above link.
Now on the next page we will have a look at Website Hosting, Collaboration and File Sharing solutions.