‘Traditional’ FTTP or a new altnet provider – what’s best for business?
Someone’s tearing up roads across Britain. Altnets, or alternative network providers, have exploded onto the fibre market in the last five years.
These companies are challenging the tried and trusted providers that deliver connectivity over established networks by offering low-cost, high-speed internet and a commitment to create new fibre networks in areas Openreach — the backbone of British broadband — hasn’t yet reached.
But behind the flash prices and attention-grabbing speeds, what are altnets doing to ensure businesses get what they need right down the line?
What are altnets?
From rural border towns to the inner cities, Altnets are working everywhere and anywhere to extend the UK’s fibre network and create space to compete with traditional suppliers.
Backed by billions in private investment, these smaller firms have quickly rolled out fibre connectivity to 5.5 million premises, compared to the 7.6 million from Openreach and almost 2 million reached by Virgin Media O2. This has been big for consumers, who now have faster speeds and lower prices in more areas than ever.
But business broadband needs to handle much more than streaming and social media. As altnets increasingly target commercial customers, their ability to deliver the resilience, reliability, security and customer service businesses need are being tested to the limit.
And with Openreach committing around £12bn to reach 25 million homes by the end of 2026, the clock could already be ticking on altnets’ key competitive advantage – delivering fibre today where others don’t.
That’s why businesses need to see the whole picture – and not just the prices – before switching suppliers. It would be best if you had a solution that suits you.
How are altnets different from ‘traditional’ FTTP providers?
Speed is an essential consideration for business broadband. But it is not the only consideration. How do altnets perform in all areas that matter to firms?
Many businesses look to specialists for additional features beyond a simple consumer-grade connection.
Consider the needs of your business. For instance, a static IP address (where the unique string of characters that locates you on the internet is fixed and permanent) is critical for connecting remotely, setting up a VPN, running a website, or running reliable CCTV off your network. Not all altnets can provide this service.
Other considerations – bespoke domain names, email address(es), and essential equipment like robust, super-secure business routers – should be considered early, or you could risk crucial functionality or incur high costs on features you need as standard.
Ask altnets: ‘Can I get a fixed IP?’ and ‘Do you provide a business-grade router?’
Data loss and online scams can seriously damage your company, customers, and reputation. For this reason, security should be a key concern when selecting a fibre provider.
While altnets say they’ll try to protect your business and data online, few go above and beyond to put in the robust security measures companies need to protect themselves best. One leading altnet even states, “You are responsible for… implementing your own security measures to protect your information, network and devices.”
Specialist business ISPs, like Beaming, have built their network to be as secure as possible and can provide clients with appropriate spam filtering, data loss prevention and high-security firewalls. Choosing a provider with the tools, services and commitment to protect your data can prevent significant long-term damage.
Ask altnets: ‘How do you protect your network from threats?’
With the use of cloud applications and VoIP telephone systems now the norm, a reliable internet connection is more essential than ever. Although you can minimise risk with more resilient connectivity and backup connections, no single internet connection is perfect – things can and will go wrong.
When the worst happens, you need a provider that listens and acts fast.
Check potential suppliers’ service level agreement (SLA), which guarantees:
- The regular and acceptable average internet speeds
- The level of downtime they consider satisfactory to permit
- The fix times they work to in the event of any failure
Don’t trust a supplier that won’t provide this basic information when you ask for it.
The longevity of altnets is also under question. Putting in place fibre networks, even on a small scale, is an expensive, capital intensive business — fraught with challenges,
As Anna Goss writes in the Financial Times, “Several smaller companies have already gone bust, with many more expected to follow. The vast majority of others are likely to be bought out by bigger players.” It’s unlikely they can afford to invest in the kind of customer service and expert IT support business customers that rely on the internet need as standard now.
Even if you’re in a good relationship with your supplier, can you be sure it will stay that way?
Ask altnets: ‘What fix times do you offer in your service level agreements?’
Are altnets right for my business?
Altnets have been instrumental in rapidly expanding the UK’s fibre network and delivering fast, affordable connections to homes across the country. But that doesn’t mean they have the tools and services to suit the needs of your business.
Of course, we can’t speak for all altnets. It’s up to businesses to ask the questions that matter most to them, especially when the answers aren’t immediately at hand, to find the right connection for them.
Just remember that buying cheap often means buying twice, and that all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold. It’s best to ask some probing questions to ensure you get what’s right for your business.
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