Home office communications: what’s really essential?
Working from home has become commonplace in recent months around New Zealand. Bill Bennett reviews the communications technologies on offer for business owners. ome offices are going to feature more in everyone’s lives from now on. So are communications technologies. Expect to have fewer face-to-face meetings in future and more digital connections. In 2020 […]
Working from home has become commonplace in recent months around New Zealand. Bill Bennett reviews the communications technologies on offer for business owners.
ome offices are going to feature more in everyone’s lives from now on. So are communications technologies. Expect to have fewer face-to-face meetings in future and more digital connections.
In 2020 there is a bewildering array of options for connecting with others, but not all are appropriate for owner operated businesses. Exactly what tools you choose depends on what you do and who you communicate with. If you get the basics right, you’ll have something solid to build on.
Broadband is fundamental. You need a fast connection with plenty of data. The best broadband technology is fibre. Don’t hesitate to have fibre installed if it is available in your area – installation is free. If the fibre cable doesn’t run down your street, choose fixed wireless broadband.
Only a handful of places are not on one of these two networks. If you live in one of these places you may have to make do with a satellite connection.
The other key communications technology you need to consider is a mobile phone. These are useful even if you never plan to leave the house again. But the moment you step outside they are vital.
We are now in the fibre era. By the end of 2022, 85 percent of homes and businesses will be able to connect to fibre. If the fibre network passes your house or your business premises you should connect. You’ll get a faster and more reliable connection than you could get from any alternative technology. Fibre runs at full speed all the time and it’s relatively trouble-free once it is installed and running.
The hardest decision you have is choosing the right fibre plan. Internet service providers (ISPs) typically offer plans that combine two elements: speed and data allowance.
Plans get more expensive as they get faster and offer more data. Fibre speeds start at 30 megabits per second (mbps) and normally go to one gigabit per second (a gigabit is a thousand megabits). The other consideration is whether your plan is symmetric or asymmetric – that is, do you want the same speed in both directions, or would you prefer to have faster downloads than uploads?
Only a handful of ISPs still sell 30mbps plans. They are not worth bothering with as they cost roughly as much as the faster 100mbps plans. Prices for these start at around $65 a month.
While 100mbps is more than enough for a simple small business, you might want a faster link if a handful of people share the same line. These people could be co-workers, or they might be family members hoping to watch Netflix or play on their Xbox. New Zealand’s fibre network is less busy during the working day than it is at night.
If you are strict about working nine-to-five or even eight-to-six, then 100mbps should be plenty. Otherwise, choose a gigabit plan. A gigabit plan costs only a few dollars a month more than a 100mbps plan and provides plenty of headroom, so you’ll never bump up against limits. It won’t stutter if a kid comes home from school and downloads the latest game.
You can buy a gigabit plan with unlimited data for as little as $85 a month. This is the best choice and it is by far the most popular choice in New Zealand at the time of writing. It means you have a broadband connection with no limits or restrictions on what you do. If colleagues or customers want to make long video conferencing calls, you can indulge them without counting the cost.
Most businesses don’t tend to use anything like as much data as leisure users who watch streaming TV or play online games. If that’s you, then save money by choosing a plan with a limited amount of data.
Businesses that deal in very large amounts of data or need faster speeds will soon be able to buy 2Gbps or 4Gbps plans for around $200 a month. At the time of writing this is only available in a couple of areas. Chorus, which sells these plans under the Hyperfibre brand, will have services nationwide towards the end of the year; other fibre companies have similar products in the pipeline. You’d only need this service if you run a video production business, a recording studio or were involved in something that collects vast amounts of data.
The fixed wireless option
If you are outside the fibre network area, fixed wireless broadband is your best bet. It uses the cellular network.
Fixed wireless is slower than fibre and often has smaller data caps. You share the available connections, so speeds can drop during busy times. Despite all this, it is still a good option. Perhaps the biggest downside is that each cell tower can only accommodate so many customer accounts at any one time, so you may need to go on a waiting list to get a connection.
Fixed wireless broadband will get an upgrade as the phone companies roll out their 5G mobile networks. That was planned to start later this year but, thanks to Covid-19, may now be delayed.
What about 5G? And mobile?
Although there has been a lot of talk about 5G, it’s not going to make much difference to your mobile experience in the short term. You can already stream video and do video conferencing on 4G phones, so it’s hard to see what further practical applications there are for everyday business users. Keep an eye on 5G, but don’t panic about upgrading your phones or paying extra for a 5G mobile phone plan at this stage.
Mobile phone plans now offer more generous data allowances. In most cases the allowances will be more than enough for everyday use. The exception is if you use a lot of video while on the move.
It makes sense to get the most data you can afford. Even if you don’t use video, the mobile network makes a fantastic alternative network if your landline broadband should fail.
Fibre networks don’t tend to fall over, but remember your connection will stop if the power goes out and you don’t have battery back-up.
However, if you have a laptop and mobile phone, you can carry on as long as their batteries last.