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Drawing a distinction – world class business broadband
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Drawing a distinction – world class business broadband

Posted by Matt KeyAugust 16, 2011

While consumer broadband providers in the UK are receiving fierce criticism around their average speed claims, with studies finding that they are “far slower” than advertised, we can tell a very different tale for the country’s business broadband users. A clear distinction must be drawn between consumer broadband networks and networks designed exclusively for the use of businesses. A lot of the analysis of the state of broadband in the UK blurs this obvious distinction and therefore draws incorrect conclusions. When it comes to business broadband networks, the UK is actually one of the world leaders.

Looking at international consumer broadband ranking tables the UK often appears near the bottom, leaving the impression that, compared to the rest of Europe, the UK is a technological backwater, burdened with poor coverage and leisurely download speeds. But the situation is not nearly that bad. The nation’s businesses have access to truly world class networks that can deliver a range of value-add applications allowing them to compete with any rival across the globe.

Business requirements
When analysing the quality of the UK’s business broadband networks, first off, we must begin with an understanding of the requirements of businesses and then look at how well these are being met by operators.

In today’s environment, more and more is expected of networks used by organisations. Provision of voice and data services is no longer enough. Modern businesses expect to be connected to suppliers and customers anywhere, anytime and on any device. It is this responsiveness that provides them with the competitive edge they need to drive their business forward.

Business applications are increasingly seen as being critical to success. They can improve productivity, cut costs and change the way businesses communicate with all levels of their ecosystem. The choice of network is critical for these applications to run successfully.

Put simply, competitive edge comes from the applications used by businesses and the only thing standing in the way of this being realised is the network.

Next-Generation Networks
An explosion of communications devices and network services has been driving end-customer expectations higher. Next-generation networks (NGNs) are well established as an essential tool for enhancing business telecommunications infrastructures. Designed to carry multiple data services for bandwidth hungry, time critical applications, NGNs are ideal for businesses with multiple geographical sites.

NGNs offer significant competitive advantage to organisations because they support wider business goals such as increased productivity, security and reliability as well as improved customer service. Since a truly converged network can deliver any call, any piece of data and any image or application anywhere, in real-time, NGNs reduce the number of devices needed to build the network, as well as the cost and resources required to maintain it.

The key business benefits of migrating to NGN networks include the cost savings resulting from simplified network management as well as increased speed and efficiency of data storage and transfer, and the elimination of the data transfer bottleneck typical of standard networks.

How business broadband services can be provided
In the UK, there should be no barrier to the take up of feature-rich applications – networks of sufficient speed and intelligence are available today and are, in fact, being deployed and used across a wide range of sectors. State-of-the-art networks based exclusively on next-generation IP, run applications that businesses hadn’t even dreamt of a decade ago. The potential cost savings with the right NGN makes the business case for using just one network possible. With it, businesses can get the best from their applications, host them in a single data centre, prioritise, measure and manage their performance and minimise their carbon footprint.

The NGN infrastructure available for businesses today ticks all the boxes when it comes to providing a competitive national infrastructure. They are fast and affordable, providing speeds of up to 10Gbps which enable even the most data-heavy applications to run at blistering speeds.

In addition, through advanced multiservice access node (MSAN) technology, a network is now capable of delivering speeds that are in excess of traditional leased lines. This means that backhaul and contention ratio service levels can now be tailored to support business’ requirements.

Networks are also scalable and resilient, providing up to 99.999 per cent availability. They can be delivered over a range of access media including fibre, copper, radio, Asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line (SDSL) or Ethernet, allowing businesses to tailor their networks to best suit their needs. What’s more, whilst the right infrastructure means using broadband for last mile connectivity is an efficient way of delivering corporate networks into many sites (such as retail footprints), the networks of today are able to seamlessly integrate other access technologies into the same network.

Critically, businesses are now being given the opportunity to better control their networks through services such as Application Performance Management (APM). This gives them the levels of control previously only seen in the Local Area Network over the Wide Area Network, ensuring that every application runs as efficiently and as effectively as possible.

The Future – Unified Communications
Businesses are always hungry for technologies that can improve the way they interact and collaborate, and solutions such as Unified Communications (UC) offer an innovative way of doing just that. By integrating real-time communications applications such as Instant Messenger (IM), IP telephony, video conferencing and call control, with non real-time applications for document management, knowledge management and enterprise collaboration, UC provides a compelling proposition for uniting a multitude of core network propositions into a coherent mechanism for boosting productivity and promoting operational efficiencies.

However, for these solutions to be effective and demonstrate the return on investment they must be deployed effectively and unified at the network layer as well as at the point of delivery, and the only way that UC can be delivered with the right quality of experience across all applications is to unify them across a NGN. These networks are built specifically for IP applications and therefore understand the building blocks of a UC environment. NGNs are converged networks, meaning that all functions are supported across a single platform – this reduces many of the costs involved in deploying a multitude of disjointed applications.

UC is a highly valuable proposition if it is delivered correctly. It only truly works in an NGN environment where the necessary levels of intelligence are present and where the applications can be united throughout a single coherent network platform. If this is not done, then the communications platform cannot achieve a coherent UC service experience and many of the expected cost and efficiency benefits will not materialise.

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Matt Key

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