What’s the difference between business and residential broadband?

Broadband is often likened to a utility and to some extent that’s a good analogy. Broadband is broadband whether it arrives in someone’s home or at a business premises. But the way it is delivered and the kind of service you can expect to get will be quite different when you are at home and when you are at work, as will the amount you pay for your service.

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Broadband speeds

Broadband speeds vary from around up to 10Mbps for downloads (ADSL2+) to around up to 1Gbps (that’s 1000Mbps or 100 times faster) for fibre to the premises (FTTP) or ‘ultrafast’) services. Obviously, you will pay much more for the higher speed services. Most home users (except perhaps the most avid gamers) probably won’t need higher speeds; and even most businesses (except larger firms and those that use a lot of video and graphics) won’t need the very highest performance that’s available.

The speeds in between are the ones that will suit most homes and businesses and in today’s market that probably means a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) or ‘superfast’ service. These offer download speeds of up to 76Mbps. But just because they run at the same theoretical speeds, that does not mean that your home and business broadband are the same – or indeed, that they will cost the same.

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Service levels and service level agreements (SLAs)

You can’t consider speed without also considering the service levels. What you should expect to receive will be set out in the service level agreement (SLA) that will accompany every broadband contract. Business SLAs will be much more specific and stringent than those offered for the home, as most companies these days are highly dependent on their broadband connection.

That said, home connections are also important today, not only because our home entertainment depends almost entirely on broadband, but also because more people are now working at home more often.

While the SLA for a business will generally be higher, the service levels on offer to business users will vary, so this is well worth checking out properly. Some Internet service providers (ISPs) will offer guaranteed high speeds and uptime, well in excess of 99%. They will also guarantee a fix or resumption of service in the event of downtime within a few hours. In many situations, they will also provide a 4G (and perhaps that will soon become 5G) backup connection that will click-in automatically if the land line goes down.

If they can’t meet these service levels, they may even have to pay the customer compensation.

With home broadband, there will be less of a service level guarantee. That said, due to the increasing importance of broadband to home users now, service providers really can’t afford to allow the connection to stay down for too long.

But in truth, major outages, even for home users, are quite rare. ISPs may also give you an assurance with respect to the speed that you should get most of the time and while downtime – on the rare occasions it occurs – may be beyond their control, speed is something they have more control over, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the speeds to actually get once the broadband services is up and running, and letting them know if it calls off too much at any time.

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One of the major differences between business and home broadband is the degree of contention on the connection. All broadband connections are shared to a greater or lesser extent. Several business or home connections are connected to a bigger main connection to the Internet. The degree to which they are shared will give you an idea of how likely it is that you will be affected by contention.

You can think of this as several smaller roads all joining a bigger road; the more smaller roads there are leading onto that bigger road, the more traffic there will be at busy times, and the more traffic will slow down. In broadband terms this is called contention.

On home broadband there will be more small roads and therefore more contention and at busy times, the connection might slow down. On business services, there will be fewer small roads feeding onto the main highway. This is fundamentally why the guaranteed speeds are always going to be better on business services.

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Customer Support

Support and response will be generally much higher for business services and for many there will be a number that customers can call 24/7 in the event of any problem arising. You won’t get quite the same level of service guarantee and may instead be directed to online resources. Business users can expect to pay more for their service, so they should expect better SLAs and support.

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While security is chiefly the responsibility of the business or home user, some broadband services do come with added security features, such as content filtering (to prevent unwanted emails getting through) and, for home users, parental control settings that allow mums and dads to monitor and control usage.

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Static IP

Most home broadband services won’t give you a static IP address – and not all business services come with one. You will need a static IP address (one that always stays the same) if you host your own website and/or if you are trading online. It is also important if you want to run virtual private networks (VPN) for secure remote connections – and that’s much more important for many businesses now.

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Phone line

You don’t always have to have a separate phone line with broadband but with most services, it is still a requirement. Even with home broadband services you usually get a single standard VoIP connection, and you should be able to keep your old number.

With business broadband packages, if you need some additional voice lines, you may be able to bundle that together with the broadband connection. This will often be an economical way to add the voice services you need. But businesses should examine their needs carefully in this respect. You can subscribe to a completely separate and dedicated VoIP solution if you wish, and for many businesses that will often be a better option as it will give you more control and flexibility.

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Web and TV services

Business broadband packages often come with some web services, such as domain names services, web hosting and email. Most businesses will have already had this set up by their IT services provider. But if you do need them, it’s worth looking at what’s on offer considering before signing up to a broadband service. For home users there may be the additional enticement of TV services that can be bundled into the broadband service package, and if that’s something you want, it’s well worth considering.

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Of course, a business broadband service, with the higher speeds, lower contention rates and higher SLA and support services, is going to cost more than one designed for use by consumers in their own homes. But there are also plenty of options available for both business and home user. If you have a clear ideas of what you need – and also of what you want to pay for broadband, you should be able to find a service that will meet all of your needs. It’s important to consider all your current and future needs – and not to compromise too much. Whether it’s for work or for home, your broadband connection is really important.

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