Internet and Communications
The following information is a primer of sorts – on Broadband benefits, telephone options and other communication topics so critical to running a business.
- Cable and DSL are much speedier than dial-up and also do not interfere with phone lines.
- Broadband refers to the "bandwidth" of an
Internet connection and the volume of data that can flow
through it. Vastly faster than the old dial-up version,
broadband Internet has many advantages, among them:
- Allows continuous connection at high speeds (no added charge for duration of use), making downloading of documents, images and other large files a snap
- Provides a platform for Web conferencing, Web workshops, Webcasts and other Internet communication platforms, saving travel time and money for the business owner
- Permits telecommuting, allowing some employees to work at home – a real boon for small offices
- Opens business expansion potential beyond local boundaries to state, national and international markets via company Web sites and e-commerce options
- Permits some system repairs and product sales to be made "virtually" – that is, online – without expensive service calls
It is important to note that broadband systems require solid security measures because they are always "on." For this reason, business owners should obtain cutting-edge firewall protection.
Today's business owners have a range of communication options at their disposable, from the traditional land line to cutting-edge wireless technology. For this reason, the savvy entrepreneur will explore all the possibilities before choosing a service provider. Here are some guidelines:
- Research types of available telephone, Internet and cable service, including land lines and newer technologies such as VOIP (voice over Internet protocol), bundled cable, DSL (digital subscriber line), Bluetooth technologies and cellular phones.
- Search the market. Call local providers; explain your company's needs and ask them to describe exactly what services they offer for the price. Keep in mind, your phone will be your primary point of contact for your clients, and you eventually may need a professional system to handle the call volume.
- Investigate the service records and general reliability of potential providers. The Internet is a good place to start, as is the Better Business Bureau. In addition, owners of companies similar to yours can share recommendations and cautions regarding providers they have used.
- Make sure that providers' service plans offer prompt resolutions to technical problems. Some companies operate only during weekly business hours, an unfortunate situation when a real crisis occurs.
The Public Utility Commission advises caution when a deal seems too good to be true. Read the fine print regarding monthly fees, minimum charges or special promotions. Detailed information is available on individual states' PUC Web sites.
Once you've located a provider you can trust, brush up on the type of telephone system best suited to your business:
- Generally, the number of users, including company
employees, dictates the type of product. Choices
- PBX (Private Branch Exchange) systems, mostly used by large companies
- KSU (Key System Unit), similar to PBX, but less expensive. This works best for companies with 60 employees or less.
- A KSU-less system, which does not require a large hardware box. This model is appropriate for businesses with 10 employees or less.
- Don't necessarily choose the cheapest option. The first line of communication for a business is the telephone – so opt for a reliable system that can grow with the company.
- Instead of buying new – and often expensive – phones, check to see if existing ones will work with the system.
- Buying a used or refurbished system can be a cost-saving option. Industry experts say most equipment is well-built and can last for years.
- Go Internet. According to International Data Corp., there are more than 4.5 million VoIP users worldwide. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone systems allow businesses to place and receive calls over the Internet. This option is particularly wise for companies employing telecommuters, though minor bugs still need to be vetted.
- Don't forget to factor in how many extensions are required for fax machines, modems, credit card terminals, etc.
Mobile Communication Devices
- Cell phones send and receive calls from inside the office to anywhere on the road. The most basic models feature voicemail and text-messaging, while higher-tech versions provide limited Internet access and GPS navigation technology.
- A PDA, or Personal Digital Assistant, is a handheld computer for organizing and managing appointments, tasks and contacts. Wireless models typically feature e-mail and Web browsing, with data synchronization permitted between the PDA and desktop computer.
- Smart phones (an evolution of the PDA) perform the entire range of cell phone functions, but also allow full Internet access, as well as provide word-processing, camera and productivity capabilities. What's more, users can download/upload data from and to PCs and laptop computers.