Sunday, November 04, 2007

Broadband For The Home Office

With bandwidth choices multiplying, home office users are wondering what's the best deal for them. Should they go with garden variety residential DSL or Cable Internet service, the new FIOS service from Verizon, or something professional grade like Business DSL, T1, or Carrier Ethernet? Here's a quick guide to what's available and what makes sense for the home office user.

Most often, the best option for home office connections to the Internet are the "residential" broadband services. That's true for a couple of reasons. First of all, residential broadband is as low cost as you can get. It's generally only available in residential neighborhoods. The local cable company may well be selling broadband connections to restaurants and small offices in areas zoned for business, but they'll also be charging around double what you'll pay at home. It's likely to be the same or very similar connection quality, perhaps with special customer service attention for the higher paying business customers.

Beyond cost, the other reason residential broadband is a good match for home offices is that most home users are willing to live with occasional short outages and varying bandwidths in exchange for cost savings. If the line drops for 20 minutes, can you take a break and come back or do something offline? If so, you'll save a bundle. If you are using VoIP telephony, is the bandwidth high enough so that your phone calls sound decent and rarely drop? With one or two phones and a decent router that lets you set priority for voice packets, you may very well be able to use a single broadband connection for your broadband telephone and PC Internet.

So how do you find your best deal on residential broadband? The easiest is to use an online broadband search engine such as "Can I Get DSL?" You enter your name, email, and phone number and in a matter of a minute or two you get back a display of which broadband services are available for your location and their prices.

Notice that you need to enter you landline phone number for this to work. Search engines like this one use the phone number to establish your exact location based on phone company records. That's important because all broadband services are location sensitive. The house across the street may be wired for cable or fiber optic service, but yours isn't. Or vice versa. For DSL, it's even more critical. DSL uses high frequency signals that ride on the telephone line along with standard voice service. These signals have a very limited geographical reach from the phone company office. If you are more that a few thousand feet, it gets dicey. By the way, that applies to both residential and business DSL offerings. It's the technology that limits the distance.

OK, but what if you don't have a landline? Perhaps you use a cell phone exclusively or VoIP sharing your broadband connection. Or you are moving to a new location and want to find out what broadband services are available there. For DSL, forget it. It's rare to be able to get DSL without landline phone service. Both services use the same phone lines. Plus you need that phone number to even run a search. If you are using VoIP for phone calls, chances are that you are looking for Cable Internet anyway. To get an idea on service availability and prices, use a next door neighbor's landline number to run a search (with their permission of course). This won't guarantee availability, but is likely to give you an accurate picture of what services are available. You'll need to call your cable company or the cable company at your new location to actually establish service.

An exciting new service rolling out in selected parts of the country, mostly in the New York metroplex area, is Verizon FIOS. This is the long awaited FTTH or Fiber To The Home service. You can get download speeds up to 30 Mbps, plus telephone and television service, all delivered over fiber optic cable.

I should mention that the broadband search at Can I Get DSL? returns DSL, Cable, and Satellite Internet. Satellite is a viable alternative if you live in a rural area or part of town not served by DSL or Cable. It's more expensive than the other residential options and you have to pay a equipment fee, but it may well met your Internet needs when the other option is dial-up. Because of the time delay, called latency, involved in sending a signal up to a geosynchronous satellite and back down, this service isn't very usable for VoIP phone service. You might be able to make it function, but the conversations will be more like using walkie-talkie or CB radio than traditional telephone service.

Another option that may be available locally is wireless broadband. These are locally owned and have very limited coverage, so there's no search engine. Try the newspaper ads or Yellow Pages to see if there is a provider in your area. If so, you can often get service quality similar to Cable broadband at about the same cost. Sometimes there are wireless providers in smaller or more rural counties that aren't hooked up to Cable.

But what about the profesional grade telecom services? T1 is the defacto standard for many small business locations because it provides rock-solid bandwidth at 1.5 Mbps both upload and download, often with a service level agreement or availability guarantee. The reliability is at least an order of magnitude better than residential services, repair times are faster, and the provider may offer you a managed router so they can monitor your service quality at all times. For this, you pay about 10x the cost of residential broadband. In major cities, that's around $400 a month with a 1, 2, or 3 year lease require. In less built-up areas the cost is higher. There's also a rather stringent credit check.

For some people, T1 service to the home is worth the expense. These tend to be people with expensive residences and demanding professions that require top grade service, whatever the price. If you fall into that category, please let one of our professional consultants help you decide on the best professional grade services available for your location.

There is also Business DSL service, but this is also typically available only for business-zoned areas near telephone company central offices. It typically costs 2 to 3 times residential DSL and is characterized by symmetrical bandwidth. That means similar upload and download speeds. Once again, this service is distance limited by the technology involved. If you can't get residential DSL, you won't be able to get business DSL.

The other available business bandwidth solutions are more intended for medium to large companies. These include T3 or DS3 bandwidth at 45 Mbps and fiber optic Ethernet at 10 Mbps to 1 Gbps. Those services start around $2,000 a month, so it would be the rare home office user who can justify this expense.

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