Ten or 15 years ago, a business didn’t really have many decisions to make regarding getting access to the Internet. In fact, 15 years ago, many small businesses would not even have had websites or appreciated the need to be on the World Wide Web.
Fast forward to today — the landscape certainly has changed!
It was only about 9 years ago that I would leave my last corporate job, one for a regional multi-state Internet service provider, to set out on my own and start an information technology firm. So I was right in the middle (of the beginning), technologically speaking, of the dawn of the high speed information age.
Since then, the world has grown up from “high speed” dial-up connections and very costly T1 lines that had to be specially installed, to a more small-business friendly landscape of DSL and cable connections. The advent of DSL and cable Internet connections meant that a business with just a handful of employees (or even a single-person business) could have access to similar Internet access speeds as many larger businesses. Installing a high speed Internet connection became faster, cheaper and easier.
But even though DSL and cable have become two standard ways of getting Internet service for a small business, do you really know the difference, and how to choose? Let’s compare.
Which Internet Connection for Your Business?
What is DSL?
DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line. DSL uses the phone lines coming into your premises for landline phones, to connect to the Internet. You computers are connected to a phone line via a special DSL modem for the purpose of transmitting data.
The speed at which a DSL modem sends and receives data varies from hundreds of Kilobits per second to Megabits. Examples of DSL technologies include Asymmetric DSL (ASDL) in which upload and download speeds differ and Symmetric DSL where both are the same speed.
Advantages of DSL
When looking at DSL, you have some advantages:
- Faster speed than dial-up – definitely an improvement over using your phone line to dial up an Internet. Plus, you can access both the Internet and your phone line at the same time (which you can’t do with dial-up, if you have just one phone line).
- You may be able to deal with your existing phone company. So you have one bill with your telecommunications provider.
- Ability to choose between different connection speeds and pricing from various providers.
Disadvantages of DSL
- The farther you are from the provider’s Central Office (CO), the slower the speeds you will qualify for.
- Because access is delivered by your business’ phone line, you’ll lose your Internet connection should the line be damaged or interrupted.
- Traditionally not as fast as cable.
What is Cable Internet?
Cable Internet transmits digital data over existing cable television lines using a cable modem. The speed at which it sends and receives data varies from just a few Megabits per second to many Megabits.
Advantages of Cable
- Performance isn’t based on distance from the provider’s central location.
- Faster speed than dial-up and DSL, especially if you purchase a business Internet access package.
- Provides the kind of high speed symmetrical data many businesses would require for remote services and servers. In other words, if you are transmitting data to a remote server, or to the cloud, you are going to want faster transmission speeds that sometimes are not as available with DSL.
- With cable, you typically can bundle other services such as VOIP phone and business TV, as well as networking services.That way you truly are dealing with one provider, giving you one bill and one company to call for support.
Disadvantages of Cable
- You may share the available bandwidth of a single cable line with others in your neighborhood. The more people using it at the same time, the slower the performance. This can be minimized by choosing a business cable connection, which typically provides faster speeds.
- Because Internet access is delivered via a cable line, you’ll lose your Internet connection if the cable line is damaged. Hence, if your cable “goes out,” your Internet access is lost.
- Could be more costly than DSL.
So How do I Choose Either DSL or Cable?
1.) Find out if you have a choice — and what’s available in your area. In some places, especially remote areas, you may be able to get one type of service but not another. Or your access to cable may be limited to certain providers by your local community.
2.) Choose a trustworthy provider. You likely already know your experience with the phone company or cable company in other instances, including for residential service.
3.) Examine the provider’s business service plans. Business packages are typically tailored for a business’s needs and growth, versus a consumer’s needs. Often with business plans you have a choice of different levels of speed, depending on the number of users and devices in your business, as well as how you intend to use the Internet access on a daily basis.
For instance, if your business does heavy online file sharing or regularly transmits large files to the cloud, you will want to make sure you have sufficient speed. Be aware, also, of any data caps — is there a limit on the amount of data you can use over your Internet connection?
There are real reasons to choose a business plan, even for a business that starts out small in the home. In some cases, the ability to run a server and have a static IP address will require opting for business service over residential connection, even for a very small business.
4.) Assess your needs for special services and options. Check into additional services you may require and whether your provider offers them. That’s important, even if you don’t currently need those services — you must consider your business’s growth trajectory. You want a provider that can grow with you, seamlessly allowing you to upgrade and add services, as your business needs evolve.
Consider installation options and costs. Making sure everything is installed correctly the very first time is important. There’s extra cost and inefficiency in rework.
Some providers even offer full scale networking options to handle it all for you. This may be a better option for you than paying an employee to manage your network internally.
5.) Look at bundling options and overall price. Price isn’t everything, but you cannot pretend its not important so look for bundled deals that can save you money on the whole. Whether you want to outsource your networking, or use other services such as business phone systems or business television, you can save money with a bundled package and reduce the number of providers you need to contact in case of issues.
In summary, there’s a lot more for a business to consider when choosing Internet service than simply choosing the phone company or the cable company. Taking the time to educate yourself and carefully think about your needs can pay off in terms of choosing the Internet service that enables and supports fast growth, instead of one that may slow you down in the future.
Cables  Photo via Shutterstock