Last month’s BT broadband outage caused users more than a few problems and exercised Mike van Bunnens, Managing Director at Comms365 into asking us to consider that it is time for 4G to take centre stage.
Over the past couple of years organisations have woken up to the critical importance of 100% Internet access uptime. With the reliance upon cloud based applications and the cost benefits of VoIP calls, continuous, fast connectivity has become an essential business requirement. Yet the divergence in cost, coverage and quality of service available to companies in different geographic areas continues to challenge the evolution of a long term comms strategy – especially for those still waiting for the roll out of superfast broadband services.
What’s more, news that exploded the headlines last month of BT’s major broadband outage, which left tens of thousands of households and businesses without a connection for hours, shows that businesses shouldn’t waste time waiting much longer; even when a superfast broadband connection does arise, there’s still the possibility of it failing.
In contrast, 4G network coverage is getting ever better. Speeds are great and with 4G data costs at a fraction of the 3G alternative, 4G clearly has a role to play. Many organisations still consider mobile purely as a back-up comms option – but given the speed, resilience and reliability of the 4G infrastructure, is it now time for businesses to consider 4G as a primary, rather than secondary connection?
Fixed versus Mobile
Today, a fixed line Ethernet connection can cost between £300 and £2000 per month depending on location and the company’s data needs – a huge divergence in price, especially for the SME. While there are strong benefits – not least the lack of contention which delivers dedicated, guaranteed speed – many SMEs understandably baulk at the investment, especially those facing the top end of the price range. Companies also recognise that a single comms connection represents a significant business risk – a secondary or back-up solution is essential to avoid expensive, non-productive down time.
The alternatives to fixed line options vary depending on location, and include point to point radio, satellite and mobile – increasingly 4G as the network coverage expands. Indeed, in many areas where the ADSL service is weak, growing numbers of SMEs have adopted 4G as a contingency comms solution – and discovered the failover performance far outstrips the main connection. Speeds are good, if variable, and more than adequate for the needs of most smaller organisations; and data costs are just a fraction of those on a 3G network. So is there any need to invest in a fixed line anymore?
Having tried 4G as a back-up or short term solution in new premises, the quality of performance has prompted growing numbers of organisations – especially SMEs – to use 4G as the primary connection. However, the variability of 4G can raise concerns regarding consistent performance for phone calls, VPN or cloud based Citrix sessions that require a consistent minimum bandwidth. So while a 20Mbps 4G connection is brilliant for routine Internet access, some organisations question whether it will always be enough for simultaneous data transfer or voice calls. Organisations are also justifiably concerned about the lack of Quality of Service (QoS) guarantees on offer from mobile providers.
So what is the option? In fact, there is no need to make an either / or fixed versus mobile decision. The concept of primary versus secondary connection has been replaced by a bonded model that enables organisations to gain additional resilience and contingency from bonding different connections together. With this approach, a company can bond fixed and/or mobile connections – including connections from different mobile providers for additional contingency – and gain the benefit of the combined bandwidth to deliver day to day performance improvements.
The bonded model also addresses the QoS issue by capping the top speed of the aggregated connections at a point where a more consistent connection can be guaranteed. In addition to creating the most reliable connection possible, by taking bandwidth from different network operator cell locations the bonded service ensures that even if one operator’s network is congested, the overall connection remains stable and high performing.
Long Term Solution
In addition to delivering the key requirements today, namely consistent bandwidth plus business contingency, this bonded approach builds in future proofing. Companies can adapt the comms strategy in line with network changes and provider pricing. For example, a company may opt today to restrict the 4G usage to a set data volume – but as soon as the provider makes a pricing adjustment, that restriction can be removed. Companies can opt for a mixed fixed and mobile approach today, or go for a mobile only mixture of 3G and 4G networks, from different vendors for contingency.
The arrival of 5G will certainly challenge the validity of fixed line connections, but that is a few years away yet. In the meantime, 4G is becoming a compelling business solution – as both primary and back-up option.