Business Internet connection web hosting and services - buyer's guide

by Crucible Multimedia

The basic equipment needed to access the Internet is a computer and a modem for dial-up or router for broadband. A PC or Mac (PCs are generally better supported with cheaper software and peripherals), preferably less than 2-3 years old, will do the job – most will have a modem, otherwise a new one will cost from £10. A new computer with a modem costs from around £400, while a more powerful PC with a printer costs from £600 upwards. Software, i.e. Microsoft Office,  increases the cost of a PC substantially. Options such as ISDN or ADSL ‘modems’ will speed up your Internet access (see our information sheet on Internet connections). For ADSL, Cable or similar broadband connections you may need an Ethernet card for a networked connection, a router or a USB port for a stand alone machine.

Choosing your Internet Service Provider

Once your computer is in place you need to choose an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or more specifically an Internet Access Provider, the company that connects your computer to the Internet. Many new computers are supplied with ISP and browser software, but it is important for your business to choose the right ISP, for as your reliance upon electronic communication grows, so will your need for a reliable Internet service.

The ISP market has grown dramatically, with a lot of new players hunting for business in a very competitive market. In the UK household names not known for providing technology services, such as newspapers, banks and food retailers, are now delivering ISP services. Internet access comes at various levels of cost and service:

Some ISPs, such as AOL, charge a connection fee and/or a charge for time spent "on-line" in addition to call charges, and may not be cost effective unless you have a specific need for a service they provide. Flat rate packages which do not incur call charges but instead charge a monthly or annual fee for unlimited access may not include peak rate calls - the service may be designed for residential evening and weekend rather than business use.

Check what your telco charges for 0845 or restrictions on 0800 and similar non-geographic numbers used for dial-up connections. Technical support for free and flat rate ISPs is likely to be over a premium rate phone line, which can cost £1 per minute or more, so consider paying a higher subscription instead if you think you or your employees might need to use the support line.

An ISP will provide you with the software you need to connect and browse the Web - either on a disk or directly from their website if you are already connected and want to change.

How do I choose?

Your business requirements will drive your choice of ISP. Do you simply want to be able to send e-mail and surf the Web, or do you want to publish your own company website or trade electronically, either now or in the future? To help you make an informed decision it's worth checking out a number of providers, either by looking at the listings in Internet magazines, comparison websites or by contacting the providers directly and asking the following questions:

1.         does the service provide free Internet access? (Subscription and call charges)

2.         is there a monthly or annual fee?

3.         are there any one-off set up fees?

4.         is there a free trial period – is there a minimum commitment?

5.         are call charges included in the subscription at certain times, levied at the local rate etc?

6.         is there technical support available and if so how much will it cost?

7.         if you use an Apple Mac does the ISP support it?

8.         is there Web space included in the package (to host your company's website) and is there an extra charge for your own domain name?

9.         what is the maximum modem speed of the service and the published contention ratios?

10.       does the service support ISDN or other methods of high bandwidth Internet connectivity?

11.       what "quality of service" levels will the ISP guarantee?

12.       can you get the e-mail and Web addresses you want?

13.       what network firewall or port restrictions are there which might affect your planned usage or applications?

14.       should you choose to cancel your account or change the service specification are there any penalties?

15.       what optional security layers does your ISP have in place to prevent unauthorised access to your pc/network and to filter out viruses and unsolicited email?

It's also worth checking out the scalability and flexibility of the services provided by your chosen ISP. As your business grows you may want to upgrade to a direct connection, giving you immediate and faster access to the Internet, or you may want specific options for website hosting and e-commerce.

There are several guides to the services and performance of ISPs. The List is a full directory of ISPs in the UK and International.

Note: All above prices are inclusive of VAT where not indicated otherwise. These are suggested prices that aim to give an idea of what you can expect to pay. The cost of many of these services is changing rapidly, so check with potential suppliers for the latest prices before signing up for new services.

Reviewed January 2011

last updated : 21/01/2011

See also our UK ICT Directory for supplier lists and links

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