Network Broadband Best Practices

How to get the most value on your broadband service for your SMB network: Tips and advice.

Broadband is, excuse the pun, a pretty broad term. Americans believe minimal DSL links at 384kbps download speeds with 128kbps upload speeds are broadband. Koreans believe broadband is 10Mbps, because that's what they receive thanks to their government demanding their telecom companies provide serious bandwidth. At least Verizon continues to roll out their Fiber to the Home project, FIOS, that delivers a potential 100Mbps to users in the service area.

For the majority of us in home offices or small businesses, broadband means either cable Internet access or DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) from a phone company. Wireless broadband for home and small businesses awaits WiMAX to get rolling, and satellite based broadband remains acceptable only as a last resort, or for specialized retail applications such as linking thousands of convenience stores around the northern hemisphere.

Luckily, broadband competition between the cable companies and the phone companies still pushes speed and technical improvements. Most locations have multi-megabit broadband access from either their cable provider, a phone company, or both. Both cable and DSL residential packages offer 3Mbps speeds, or higher, and small and medium businesses can get an upgraded residential package for well under $100 per month. Small businesses can easily host their own Web and e-mail servers with an upgraded residential broadband service that provides static IP addresses.

Even companies with traditional telecom links, like T1 data lines, can benefit from using cable or DSL providers in a backup role. 18 months ago I reviewed routers with dual WAN connections to take advantage of using two Internet service providers for fault tolerance. Double Your Bandwidth, Double Your Fun showed how good a job some vendors have done making such access redundancy easy.

A companion piece to the Double Your Fun test is a short review of a system that works as a fail-over option only, connecting to a second Internet access link when the first link goes away. Since Check Point has considerable market share in this area, take a look at Check Point's Safe@Office 225 as well.

Voice Over Internet Protocol

VoIP may be an ugly acronym, but people keep buying it, and buying it, and buying it. My specialty, consumer and micro-business VoIP implementations, has been fully described in my latest book and in a variety of articles at the O'Reilly Press site . The list of "Related O'Reilly Articles" has two great articles defining the Top 10 question people ask about Internet Telephony (good things) and the Top 7 questions people should ask but don't (possible problems for broadband phone use depending on your situation). Since Vonage and Skype (now owned by eBay) lead the market, explanatory articles exist on both services.

As you might guess, I talk about this subject quite often in my columns (although not as much as do Mark Gibbs and Ron Nutter). Here's some general columns:

Wi-Fi Phones Appearing

Better Phone Services for Small Businesses

CallWave Pioneers 'Application Centric' Phone Services

Here's a quick list of articles about Skype:

Is Skype Enterprise Ready? Yes

Skype Conferencing Upgrade

Another IM-VoIP Advantage

PC-Powered Calls

Businesses large enough to need a PBX and those about to replace their old telephone-company only PBX system, should take a look at Ted Wallingford's book at O'Reilly, Switching to VoIP . Ted covers for businesses what I covered for consumers and micro-businesses. If you think you need a PBX soon, check this out.

After checking out Ted's book, listen to what a Internet Telephony reseller has to say. Will Gibson talks about saving money with new products in IP Telephone Systems Improve .

Web Hosting

Every company needs a Web site, although research shows a huge number of SOHO (Small Office Home Office) and micro-businesses don't yet have their name on the frontage road of the Information SuperHighway (did you enjoy that blast from the past?). Most hesitate because of the complexity, cost, or security problems that unfortunately come with a Web presence today.

I recommend companies without an IT person well versed in security for Web servers to rely on hosting services. When you "rent" space on a Web server, the hosting company keeps the security patches up to date, provides backup power in case of main power failure, and maintains multiple Internet access links. Small companies can't provide their own redundancy of power and Internet access without spending far more money than necessary.

But prices range all over the map. A brochure-ware Web site can be had for as little as $1 per month (really), and you can spend thousands per month for a full site running an e -commerce storefront. Or you can spend thousands and get next to nothing. I researched some services and did a two part story called Low Dollar or High Service? ( Part One and Part Two ).

Building a Web site can realistically be accomplished, with proper tools, by anyone who can lay out a company newsletter or sales brochure. My friend Sandi Smith provided some great information in Web Site Workover .

A more involved take, Fashionable Web Tips looked at some of the behind-the-scenes work needed to create a good buzz in the fashion e -commerce space. Everyone wants to be cool, right? This will help.

Just like spammers ruined e-mail, you must Beware Cybersquatters . Hard to believe a single slip can cause you such grief, but it can.

Cable and DSL Internet Access

Your office, whether a spare bedroom at home or seven floors of a downtown skyscraper, already has Internet access. If not, how are you reading this?

But Internet access isn't something you can "set and forget" as your business grows. New products provide enough value to consider, such as a review I did called Dual WAN Routers:

Double Your Bandwidth, Double Your Fun . I guess Christine The Editor had flashbacks of the old Doublemint gum commercials when she named that piece.

Older routers don't need to be replaced because they quit working but because they don't keep up with the increasing demands for secure networking. The best way to stay up to date is to get products that upgrade themselves automatically, as does Check Point's Safe@Office 225.

I have great interest in broadband over wireless links. The leading standard in various stages of development is WiMax . One tower can deliver dozens of megabytes for up to 30 miles, although early implementations usually keep the distance to 10 miles or less. One happy customer managed to Escape From Verizon thanks to a company ( rolling out pre-standard WiMax network connections.

Let's just hope the continuing traditional telephone company consolidation doesn't kill our Internet options completely. Since I wrote Beware Step-Ma Bell in January 2006, Southwestern Bell nee SBC nee AT&T gobbled BellSouth, giving them control of roughly a third of the phones in the country and at least a quarter of all high-speed data lines. Not comforting, because more big companies mean less choice for small customers.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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