Moving Premises? Check your broadband speed first

If you are moving premises check your broadband speed first. Since the Internet is so integrated into our lives and businesses it is often important to know what sort of broadband speed you may be able to get before you commit to a 5-year lease. It isn’t as easy as you might think it should be, but here’s a rundown of how you can get the best idea of what might be possible.

Check Your Current Broadband Speed

Start by checking your current speed so you get a baseline to compare against. Run the test at www.speedtest.net from a PC/Mac. It is best to use a wired cable connection for this, to ensure that your wifi is not causing a bottleneck.

What Broadband Speed Are You Looking For?

Here’s a rundown of the comparative broadband options:

Service Download Speed Upload Speed Wholesale / Retail Availability
FTTP (Fibre to the Premesis) Up to 330Mb Up to 30Mb Openreach / Limited suppliers Very limited
FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) Up to 80Mb or 40Mb (cabinet dependent) Up to 20Mb or 10Mb Openreach / Most suppliers approx 62% of UK
Cable 50Mb (Business), 100Mb (Residential) 10Mb Virgin Media / Virgin Media approx 51% of UK
ADSL2+ Annex M Up to 16Mb Up to 2.5Mb Various / Various Fair
LLU (Local Loop Unbundled) ADSL2+ Up to 24Mb, typically around 10Mb Up to 1Mb, typically 0.8Mb Various / Various Good
ADSL 2+ Up to 24Mb, typically Up to 1Mb, tpically 0.8Mb Openreach / Most Suppliers Very Good
ADSL Max Up to 8Mb, typically 4-8 Up to 1Mb, typically 0.5Mb Openreach / Most Suppliers Excellent
*Options correct as of May 2014, typical values based on my own limited experience

Most companies requirements can be satisfied by FTTC – where it is available. If FTTC is not available but Virgin is available then this could be the next best option for speed. Failing that, the ADSL options will provide connection but may not provide the necessary bandwidth. See below for alternative options.

Where To Check What Broadband Speed You Can Get

There are a few places you might use to check what sort of broadband you may be able to get.

BT Wholesale ADSL Checker with estimated Broadband Speeds

  • http://www.samknows.com/broadband/broadband_checker is a great resource for a general idea. It is not 100% accurate but gives you a good idea of which companies operate in your chosen area. On entering a postcode or phone number you will get a summary page, showing what type of service you can get. Typically the ones worth looking for are FTTC or FTTP, an LLU provider, BT 21CN or Virgin Media.
  • https://www.btwholesale.com/adslchecker Openreach is the company owning most of the telephony infrastructure in the UK. Their availability checker can tell you which PCP (the box in the street) you are connected to, which can be very helpful, along with estimated speeds. Given their all-encompassing control you are unlikely to get a better speed elsewhere, unless for example there is an LLU provider in an exchange where BT have not installed their 21CN equipment yet.
  • LLU Provider’s websites. The Utility Warehouse use the TalkTalk back-end network, and LLU availability can be checked here. Other LLU providers may be elusive to find since they can be considered wholesale companies who will only deal with resellers, and the resellers don’t necessarily tell you who they are using to provide the connection. There is a lot of information on SamKnows and ThinkBroadband.

Check Broadband Speed By Using The Phone Number

The most accurate results on the above websites come from telephone numbers. If there is someone already operating from the location you are looking at moving to, see if you can find an analogue line number they are currently using and use this to check what they can get. This is a little tricky as many businesses use ISDN for their main telephone number, which will show inconclusive results in these checkers, so you may have to be a little creative. Here are my tips:

BT NTE5 Master Socket – look for these at your new location and note down the line number to check the broadband speed.

  1. When visiting the building, have alook for BT master sockets on the wall. Often they will have the 5 or 6 digit phone number on them; make a note. If you can, take a standard analogue phone from home and plug it into the sockets. If you get a dial-tone, dial 17070 and listen for the ‘this circuit is defined as:’ message to give you the current number of the line. This can not only give you very accurate results when checking broadband speeds, but could save you money on a new installation cost since re-starting an old line often costs less than a new install.
  2. Often companies use their fax line for broadband, meaning it is an analogue line number. Check their website or a general Google search for a fax number. Watch out for the fax number being very similar to the main number,
  3. Use Google Street View to find the names and fax numbers of companies next-door to where you are looking at, and use their details to check line speeds
  4. Use the Royal Mail Postcode Finder ‘Find an Address’ to look-up your postcode, and find other businesses in the same post code. This is less accurate because phone lines don’t follow the same paths as roads and postcodes, but it can help especially if it’s a multi-tenant building.
  5. Ask! We have been to places and literally walked into a local shop, explained what we are doing there and asked if we could run a speed-test on one of their computers. They can only say yes or no – you’ve nothing to lose.

Check Broadband Speed By Using The Address

The BT Wholesale AKA Openreach checker has the option to enter the address. This gives a useful option of the Openreach options including FTTC, but does not include LLU options. There are still some instances where Openreach have only ADSL connection but LLU operators can provide ADSL2+ or Annex M connections.

The great thing about this is that it will tell you which cabinet your building is connected to. This is the green box in the street, known as the Primary Connection Point or PCP. Read more about this in the Drive-By section below.

Check the Post Code

If you really can’t find a phone number, you can use the post code. This will give you a general idea although the address checker will give much more accurate results.

Check Possible Broadband Speeds by Driving-By

If you are close enough or visiting the property, have a look around for the BT Primary Connection Point or PCP. This is the green box in the street, and if you’ve checked on the Openreach ADSL checker with either a phone number of postcode, you will already know the number of the PCP (this will be printed on the outside of the box). If it has a FTTC cabinet nearby, you will be able to get FTTC. Here’s what you are looking for:

Broadband Speed Warning - this box could change your life

Broadband Speed Warning – this box could change your life. The picture shows a new FTTC cabinet in the foreground and traditional copper PCP in the background

Interpret The Results Of Your Investigations

So what do you do once you’ve got the results of all of this? You need to make a decision about how accurate your results are and how much you can compromise if you’ve gotten it wrong.

You’ll want to consider what your current speeds are, what your usage and experiences are like now and how much you are likely to increase your usage, maybe with additional people, moving to cloud-based solutions or remote-access to your in-house network.

What do we recommend? It really depends. A blanket recommendation is to get as fast as you can reasonably afford – on the day when the pressure is really on you will be thankful that you are not being held up by your internet connection.

Most people will struggle to strangle an FTTC connection, even a slower one (the prices and speeds are tiered) gives you the option to increase quickly and easily should you need to.

Businesses with in-house servers and modest remote access requirements can typically survive on a decent ADSL connection, 5Mb download and 0.8Mb-1Mb upload.

If you rely more heavily on working remotely or on cloud-based services, especially with several users, the faster connection will be your life-blood, and you may even want to consider backup-circuits (eg FTTC main connection with ADSL backup) or business-critical alternatives such as EFM or Leased Line (see below).

If you are using a Voice over Internet (VoIP) type service, including hosted telephony and SIP trunks, you will typically want a separate dedicated broadband for the voice-element of your network. EFM and Leased Line connections offer the option to dedicate an amount of bandwidth to your voice application, so you can effectively share these types of connection between voice and data.

Check For Alternatives

If you really can’t live with a slow single ADSL connection, there exists some lesser known technologies to give you faster, even guaranteed connection speeds, and shorter Service Level Agreements (SLAs) should a fault occur. Sadly it has been our experience that despite claims of high % availability for fast broadband, most industrial and business premises have very few options for broadband, and even fewer when you consider the high running costs of the alternatives. Here’s the rundown of your options to give faster than 1 ADSL connection if FTTC and ADSLM are not available/viable.

Load-balanced connections

Load balancing your connections allows you use 2-4 connections in a load-balancing format. This means that whilst you increase your overall speed, you can only use 1 line per-datastream at a time. What this means is that if 2 users are using Skype, they could use the maximum speed of 1 line each, but 1 person would not be able to combine the speeds of both connections for a better Skype experience.

Bonded ADSL

Bonding ADSL connections allows you to take between 2 and 4 ADSL connections and tie them together into a single connection. This allows you to increase your upload and download speed with only a small overhead-cost compared to the 2-4 ADSL charges you would otherwise pay. Bonded ADSL is a special service only available on a few ISPs and a few routers.

EFM

Ethernet in the First Mile is the business-class bridging product between consumer-based DSL services and enterprise leased line services. Typically providing 3-6Mb but up to 35Mb synchronous speeds (upload and download the same), EFM offers a business-critical 4-hour SLA with a guaranteed service. The costs are a bit more than bonded ADSL at typically a few hundred pounds per month, but the speeds are too.

Fibre Ethernet aka Leased Line

The ultimate internet connection, available nearly everywhere – at a price – this gives a guaranteed connection to the internet, usually via a dedicated fibre-optic connection, along with the 4-hour SLA. Typically speeds range from 2Mb, 10Mb, 100Mb or 1Gb for the most demanding datacentres. Prices vary depending on existing infrastructure and distance from your nearest point of connection, with typical installation prices around £2,000 and monthly rentals from £600 – 1,000+ for the 2-10Mb connections.

Satellite Internet

Internet provided via a satellite can be a great solution particularly in rural areas. However due to the technology, the latency is quite high. What this means is you may get good speed but the time it takes to initiate the download is relatively high, and may leave you feeling like you are waiting a long time after clicking before anything happens. It also means that satellite isn’t great for real-time two-way communications, such as Skype or VoIP.

Satellite also comes with a transfer limit; after you’ve sent/received so much information in the month, you’ll either end up paying a surcharge or your speed being restricted.

Other options

Some other options do exist, including using mobile broadband (3G/4G connectivity) but suitability may be poor, again because of transfer limits or latency.

Other options may include community-funded fibre optic such as Gigaclear and Warwicknet, but their availability is limited.

Ask the Experts

Finally – if you’ve fried your brain trying to understand the options and pricing structures, phone a friend. Lansalot are able to quote on all types of fixed-line connections. Give us a ring on 01527 908316 for a chat about your options.

DISCLAIMER:

Openreach will not guarantee anything until the engineer has completed his work on the day. You definitely don’t want to have 10,000 letterheads printed with your new phone number (or even your existing one if you are moving and planning to keep your number) until it is confirmed to be working by the engineer. Expected Internet speeds don’t always represent the throughput speed, often you will be quoted the sync-speed which is the raw throughput and doesn’t account for frame headers and other ‘necessary stuff’. Not all ISPs are created equal either so consider your options before you commit, including get-out clauses if you are unhappy with the service. Nothing in this article should be considered sound advice, you need to do your own research and make your own mind up about what sort of connection speeds you need. We have used our experience to indicate typical usage values but these do vary greatly between companies and how they use their broadband connections.