Broadband for Business: Going Beyond E-Mail
It's no surprise that broadband use is surging among small businesses: JupiterResearch reports that 58 percent of all small businesses will use broadband Internet this year, up from 47 percent in 2005. But while the business users we surveyed all reported using services popular with general users--e-mail, Web browsing, and the like--we didn't expect to see so few business customers taking advantage of other broadband services that can help save money or improve productivity---namely, VoIP, videoconferencing, and virtual private networks (VPN) for sending encrypted data over the public Internet.
Why the lag in use of these features? Slow upload speeds can seriously impact Web-based apps such as online backup. But even where bandwidth isn't an issue, shopping for and implementing advanced features can be a challenge without an IT whiz to help. You have two basic options: Seek assistance online or hire a consultant.
ISP availability can affect your choices as well. Cable companies are late to the small-business market, partly because of their consumer-oriented TV focus. That's changing, however. Comcast plans to roll out VoIP service for small businesses this year. Similarly, Sprint's Pivot wireless service lets cable ISPs bundle mobile broadband with their wired service.
Finding and installing the right hardware is also tricky. A wireless router intended for home use might work fine for a two-person office; but as your business grows, you may want better security as well as a larger number of ethernet ports.
Some ISPs are expanding their small-business offerings by partnering with enterprise networking companies such as Nortel, and home-networking vendors are selling products for small and medium-size businesses. Buffalo Technology's Nfiniti Dual Band Gigabit Router & Access Point, with support for 802.11n/a/b/g wireless and gigabit ethernet, made our list of the top products of 2007. Newer products bundle VoIP and remote-access capabilities (see "Big-Time Phone Gear Targets Small Businesses" for more).
Microsoft and Yahoo provide free Web pages to small businesses (but users should expect upsell pitches as part of the deal). For VoIP, ISPs such as Packet8 have small-business calling plans starting at $50 a month.
For more about using broadband in your business, check out PCWorld.com's Tech at Work by columnist Richard Morochove, who often covers Web-based apps such as contact management and search-engine advertising.