What’s your line speed?

If you are basking in the glow of superfast broadband connections spare a thought for the 1.1 million UK homes and businesses which, according to Ofcom, still cannot get a decent broadband connection. Admittedly this figure has fallen by half a million over the last year but that still leaves a significant number of smaller businesses and individuals struggling in an interconnected world.

So much so that Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2017 report comments that a “lack of decent broadband is a particular concern for small businesses” with a disproportionate number being unable to access even a basic service. Ofcom estimates that 7% of small businesses (230,000) are unable to access broadband speeds in excess of 10Mbit/s. Even when it comes to faster speeds some 16% of small businesses are unable to access superfast broadband, compared to 9% of all premises.

This apparent disproportionality could be linked to the numbers of small businesses which sit in rural communities; with 17% of rural premises affected by slow broadband speeds compared to 2% of urban premises. Nevertheless, the impact of poor broadband connectivity on the UK’s smaller businesses does add impetus to the government’s proposed universal service obligation which would give homes and businesses across the UK the right to request a minimum download speed of 10Mbit/s. Openreach is also looking to work with communities to boost broadband speeds via community fibre partnerships in which the cost of fibre installation is shared between Openreach and the community. Other providers are also looking to deliver innovative solutions for rural communities, often in partnership with local councils.

In an interconnected world, slow broadband speeds can impact on every aspect of business from ordering and stock control through to marketing, accounting and sales. Even simple actions such as submitting VAT and accounting returns can become unnecessarily burdensome in the face of slow speeds and repeated line failures. But slow broadband speeds also lead to a two tier system in which those with more robust connectivity can access services such as VoIP, in the process potentially benefiting from significant cost savings.

VoIP (voice over internet protocol) is a way of making telephone calls via the internet. Not only does this generally result in cheaper telephone calls, calls between users on the same network are free. This means that businesses with multiple offices or which employ home workers can stay in touch without incurring additional charges. Further cost savings are generally also available when making VoIP to landline calls, something which may particularly impact those who regularly communicate with overseas suppliers or customers.

Interestingly the Ofcom Connected Nations report highlights another area in which VoIP is making an impact. Apparently, Ofcom is working with industry to prepare for the migration of the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to an Internet-based network in which voice is “treated as any other data application, albeit with a higher priority.” Ofcom comments that the eventual switchover will also affect areas such as fax machines, point of sale card readers and personal care alarms, necessitating robust planning to ensure that these services do not fail when the general telephone system is switched over.

For those with access to superfast broadband, defined as speeds in excess of30Mbit/s, seamless internet connectivity is rapidly becoming a way of life. As of May 2017 91% of homes and small businesses had access to these faster speeds, although only 40% of homes and small businesses had taken up the option. Nevertheless, Ofcom say that take-up is increasing and they also expect to see a rise in fibre to the home options in the near future. However there is still work to be done at the slow end of the scale. As Ofcom’s chief technology officer Steve Unger commented “our findings show there’s still urgent work required before people and businesses get the services they need.”

Written by Alison