Cable broadband was once strictly the province of residential customers, but over the past several years, the major players in this space have made large in-roads into the SMB market with fast, cheap internet circuits that, on the whole, perform more-or-less as reliably as their more expensive (T1’s) and/or slower (DSL) counterparts. The primary difference between cable circuits and T1’s, the former mainstay of business broadband, is that cable bandwidth is not guaranteed as it is on T1’s, and speeds can fluctuate wildly throughout the day, depending on the neighborhood utilization. Web-based speed tests were born, and from them probably many acrimonious disputes between customer and provider were sprung. Anecdotal research by CNET writer Dennis O’Reilly indicates that not all speed tests are created equal, can be inconsistent and even possibly slanted to favor the companies or brands sponsoring the test.
What this means for you:
A casual run of the tests on Speedtest.net may prove eye-opening, but not necessarily irrefutable proof that your internet provider has over-promised and under-delivered. In the case of a broadband circuit in use at an office, other users and devices will impact the internet speed, and unless you can guarantee your computer is the only device using the circuit, will never be a true test of the circuit’s full potential. Also, even if you were to disconnect everyone from the internet except your test machine, that’s not a true representation of the actual speed you and your co-workers will experience on a typical day. And here’s the catch behind the low-cost business-class cable – very rarely can the cable company provide any kind of cohesive reporting on how your bandwidth is being utilized, primarily because you are using a shared internet circuit. Conversely, with T1’s the higher costs pays for a dedicated, (usually) monitored circuit. Depending on your provider and contract, you may be able receive detailed reporting on utilization at any point typically within the past 7-14 days, and they may even be able to pin-point who on your network is bogarting all the bandwidth. If you have concerns about network or internet performance, speak to a technology professional who can provide you with a much broader, context-based analysis of your bandwidth usage. Don’t rely on a simple website to pass judgement on a critical part of your business performance.
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