There a few topics that can kill the soul of a conversation as quickly as one around (what we in IT call) ‘Connectivity’, or (what normal people call) ‘Broadband’.
Woeful tales of slow download speeds and spluttery service-levels have long abounded the business community to little applause.
Well, I have a story that might challenge the status quo.
The unveiling of a truth hidden from popular opinion, until now that is!
In The Beginning There Was … Dialup
Before we get started, I should probably point out that this tale didn’t happen to me, in so far as I wasn’t in the room.
But it was told to me with such conviction that I feel as if I had been. Much like great Greek myths, or the Easter Bunny, I have told the story so often that it now feels my own.
It starts off with a visit from a BT Openreach Account manger to one of his channel partners, a telecoms company in the South East.
This was all the way back in the mid-nineties. Friends was on the tv, floral ties were the norm, and it was ok to have pint at lunchtime (just about).
The operations manager from the telecoms company asks the BT representative a question. Something that has been puzzling him for a while now.
‘So, what is this new ‘Broadband’ thing I keep hearing about??’
‘Broadband?’ responds the BT person, laughing like he’s been asked if Shakespeare was a real person.
‘Nothing for you to worry about, Broadband’s not for you’
a) He did really say this, and
b) At this time we were all using dial-up, the one that made the funny noise and took an age to do anything
It was a genuine question. If there was a new thing out there that would save us all, then why on earth were we not all using it?
His reason for such an outrageous statement was as follows.
Upload / Download Ratio
Most residential users consume data, rather than create it, which is largely the opposite of what businesses do.
As such ‘Broadband’ was designed for ‘downloading’, but very little ‘uploading’. The ratio is often 95% download to 5% upload.
In other words, not ideal for businesses but fine for your average home user.
In our minds we all feel like the Broadband that goes into our homes is our own. Like we own a little slither of it and it’s ours.
The truth is you’re sharing your connection with everyone else around you who was selfish enough to go with the same service provider.
This is what a contention ratio was. The amount of people you’re shared your connection with.
And Broadband has lots of friends if it were a party, you’d knock and tell them to turn the noise down.
150+ simultaneous accounts on one connection is not unheard of.
Broadband is expensive to provide, indeed the company you’re buying it off is probably different from the one who physically provide it.
And as with all reseller models where margins can be tight, the following tends to happen.
Company A guesses how much Bandwidth is likely to be required in a particular street vs how much it is likely to sell.
It installs just-enough and hopes to make a profit
The first few people who become customers think it’s great. Superfast, fantastic, break open the twiglets!
Then, as more people join, the slower it gets
People start to complain and typically start relaying a 3rd party story from their uncle ‘Brian’ who used to work for BT
The service provider then relents, and invests some more money into the underlying bandwidth
The cycle continues
If you’ve ever found yourself saying ‘it used to be fine, but suddenly it’s rubbish’, or ‘it’s fine most of the day up until 3:37 then, strangely, it goes really slow’…then this is what has happened.
Again, not ideal for a business that needs a reliable, consistent service.
I never thought I’d be using ‘SLA’ as a subtitle, it’s a high-risk strategy, but I guess this is what happens when you hit the big time.
I digress … ‘SLA’s’ are basically how long it takes for a fault to get fixed.
Some SLA’s are good, some are bad.
Guess which camp our (residential) Broadband falls into. That’s right, the SLA’s for Broadband are usually pretty terrible.
Not ideal for running a business.
This is what businesses were supposed to be using.
A dedicated service, 1:1 ratio, so you aren’t sharing with anyone.
You get to decide exactly how much bandwidth you want, and guess what? It’s actually guaranteed, unlike Broadband which is only a best-effort service.
It has ‘Symmetrical’ bandwidth, so you can send (or upload) just as much as you download.
A fantastic SLA so typically faults take 4-6 hours to fix.
To put this into context, the push-come-shove SLA for many Broadband services, even todays is 5-working-days!
Put simply, Leased Lines are a service that your business can rely on, the sort of service that businesses need.
So, what’s the problem, why aren’t all businesses using Leased Lines?
In a world where many businesses were run by accountants, cost became an issue.
And with the backdrop of a recession it was only going to go one way.
Leased Lines used to be eye-wateringly expensive.
A bit like taking your family to Disneyland every month expensive.
This was partly because if you’re getting a dedicated / private connection, it is by definition going to be more expensive than lots of people sharing one.
But also, the information relayed to you above was simply not widely known, and if fewer people know about a thing, fewer people do it, and exclusivity inflates cost.
Leased Lines became a status symbol rather than the standard.
So where does that leave us?
Things are a little better today.
There are a wider range of products like FTTC, EoFTTC, EFM and some other acronyms made by people who can’t speak to girls.
The SLA’s on some have improved.
In short there is more choice.
That said, there are still plenty of businesses out there that really need to be using Leased Lines but aren’t, and probably don’t even know, but the good news is the price has come down dramatically.
As with most things, getting advice is key.
‘Is my business online?’
‘Does my business stop if my Broadband (or IT) stops?’
If the answer to either of these is ‘yes’, then speaking to us will give you the tools to improve your business.
On a final note, it is not lost on me that ‘story’ part of my ‘story’ was quite short.
I’m sure there’re conversation expanded on the theme and they went on to have a full and interesting discussion, but as I said, I wasn’t in the room.