AT&T, Google and CenturyLink have made headlines lately with their plans to offer superfast fiber-optic Internet service in a number of cities. AT&T is currently offering fiber-optic Internet in Austin, Google is launching in Kansas City, and both companies have other locations on tap. Meanwhile, CenturyLink’s fiber-optic service, which offers speeds up to 1 gigabit per second, is already up and running in 16 cities. According to a recent report by the research firm Current Analysis, cable operators won’t be able to offer anything as fast for at least another year.
Big deal, right? Actually, for small business, it is.
Affordable fiber-optic Internet service is a big step forward from older network technologies. For one thing, it is much faster. A cable company, for example, might offer you a download speed of, say, 50Mbps. At that speed, downloading two hours of high-quality video would take about 16 minutes. At 1Gbps, you could download it in seconds. Fiber-optic Internet has the same super-high speeds for uploading and downloading. For technical reasons, most current cable connections have two speeds, a slower one for uploading and a faster one for downloading. According to Current Analysis, typical cable Internet speeds have maximum tiers between 75Mbps and 150Mbps for downloading, and between 10Mbps and 20Mbps for uploading—far slower than a 1Gbps connection.
Fiber-optic is faster than cable because it can physically handle more data at one time. You might think of your Internet connection as the pipe that connects you to your water service. Less water can flow though a narrow, older pipe than through a broad, brand new pipe. Fiber-optic is the biggest digital pipe that technology has come up with so far.
Fast Internet connections used to be something that only online gamers and movie fans cared much about. Not anymore. Speed—both download and upload—matters for business now because we are all using the Internet for real-time applications like voice and cloud services. We’re online constantly, with customers, employees and suppliers, via our PCs, laptops, tablets and phones, relying on the performance of our Internet connection to run cost-saving Hosted IP services like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), cloud servers, and cloud-based applications.
And the sizes of the files we’re dealing with—spreadsheets, video and graphics—are constantly getting bigger. Applications that involve a lot of data, such as video-conferencing, are now commonplace. A fast connection means the difference between talking with someone as if they were in the room with you, or struggling through a discussion littered with clipped dialogue and broken up by long pauses and frozen images.
Meanwhile, cloud computing is probably the most important current tech innovation for small business. Using the cloud simply means keeping your data and most of your software on a secure server operated and kept safe by a service provider. A fast fiber-optic connection gets you to everything you use and need—suites of business applications like email, data backup, security software and so on—almost instantly. And that means you and your employees can spend more time working and less time waiting.
Fiber-optic Internet is a quantum leap up from cable, like trading in a skateboard for a Maserati. Actually, it is so fast that the applications that will be able to take full advantage of it haven’t even been invented yet. But it is here, now, and just as important, it is affordable. That makes it a practical tool any small business owner can use to keep up with the ever-accelerating pace of online business.