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Understanding Connectivity: A Small Business Checklist
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By Brent Cobb

From emailing and searching for information to selling and marketing online, Internet dependency is a mainstay for nearly all small businesses today.

Although getting access to the Internet is far easier for small businesses today than it was just five years ago, it can still be confusing as company purchasers are presented with terms like downstream, upstream, Kbps, Static IP and SLA.

Does this techno-babble mean anything? Better yet, does it mean anything to you, as a small business owner?

Well, “yes” would be the right answer, but before you stop reading this article allow me to shortcut for you exactly what you, as a small business owner, need to know when purchasing Internet connectivity for your company.

All Bandwidth is Not Created Equal

Providers of Internet connectivity are good at selling what’s often called “speeds, feeds, bits and bytes.” Statements like “speeds up to 768 Kbps,” “downstream speeds up to 3.0 Mbps” and “includes one Static IP address” are common place on most marketing material presented to small businesses shopping for Internet access.

While informative to technical buyers, most of this is unintelligible by the great majority of non-technical buyers found in small businesses today. As a result, since most small business owners have Internet access at home they will often default to buying what they use at home for their office. This is a mistake.

Residential or consumer bandwidth is very different from business-grade Internet access. Bandwidth is the maximum amount of information that can pass through an Internet connection and is often presented using maximum speeds such as 256 Kbps, 384 Kbps, 512 Kbps and 1.5 Mbps. In most businesses, the type of “information” passing through an Internet connection would include Web pages, emails, access to online applications and sometimes voice. An Internet connection with greater “bps” – for example, 1.5 Mbps vs. 265 Kbps – will permit the user to access more information, quicker. (A quick refresher K = 1,000 bits and M = 1,000,000 bits)

To gauge what a small business might need in terms of bandwidth you should know that it will take about 1 second to download a Yahoo! Page using a 265 Kbps connection. One might think that’s fast enough. But you have to consider that if you have six employees trying to each download one Yahoo! Page, it will now take each at least six seconds.

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Brent Cobb is the Vice President of Product Management, Product Development and the General Manager of Mobile Services for Cbeyond.
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