As business owners and non IT Technologists, broadband and bandwidth are things that we are often told we do not have enough of. Technical terms like ADSL, LTE, Fibre, Microwave, dedicated, contended, asynchronous, etc. are all meaningless terms to us. You may be surprised, but they are all very important in the running of your business if you are at all dependent on the internet and concerned about cost.

Bandwidth, what is it really?

Businesses struggling with bandwidth issues may be surprised that in fact they do not have bandwidth issue, but rather a bandwidth distribution issue. Bandwidth is often seen as a commodity that one should just throw more at the problem to solve it. This is not always the truth.

To understand bandwidth one must understand some of the terms above. I will try to put them into simple terms.

Think of download bandwidth as a water pipe in the road in your residential area. You are the person in your house trying to take a shower. If you had your own water pipe from the reservoir to your house it would be unaffected by anyone in your road trying to shower at the same time as you. This is called dedicated 1:1 bandwidth and comes at a premium.

If you shared a pipe from a reservoir with 20 other households in your street you can expect the water pressure to be very variable at different times of the day. i.e. when people usually shower in the morning or evening. This is called contention. i.e. multiple people using a common pipe.

Because you share a pipe, when you complain to the service provider that your shower/bandwidth is low, they will tell you that the line is contended and it is a busy time.

Because you are on a shared line and not paying a premium with an agreed service level agreement (SLA), they will not be in a big hurry to take a look or repair your problem. Much like ADSL and Telkom. The only way to ensure you have adequate pressure all the time is to make sure the pipe you are connected to is big enough to accommodate everyone in the road.

Synchronous vs Asynchronous Bandwidth

To reduce the cost of bandwidth, service providers try to push as much data through the pipe instead of increasing their costs by putting in a bigger pipe. To do this they use an asynchronous transfer method. Asynchronous is like the dreaded stop go where only one direction is permitted at a time. This results in packets of data (cars) queuing up on either side waiting for their turn. This is called buffering. Synchronous data is like a highway where you have traffic flowing in both directions on their own path. With Synchronous data the speed is regulated on both sides so the flow is always guaranteed to maintain the required speed. By making fibre asynchronous the provider uses one fibre instead of two and thus saving costs.

Symmetrical vs Asymmetrical Bandwidth

Service providers are making an assumption that most internet traffic is download traffic, i.e. a request is sent to a website asking for a certain webpage or file to be downloaded. This small request packet for the get request just needs to get through so that the larger reply data can be pushed back to the user. For basic home users, this assumption is true mostly. People download data from the internet in huge amounts as video, music, email, pictures etc. Upload traffic is uncommon. Asymmetrical bandwidth gives these users a good experience at a great price.

This all changes when companies start using more upload traffic to push files and data to the cloud. This upload data can be very important and would cause huge issues if it was delayed. We can see this in voice traffic. A delay could make your voice conversation delayed or jittery. As more and more cloud applications are used in business, the strain on the upload becomes unfavourable for asymmetrical bandwidth. In this case businesses need to look at symmetrical bandwidth options.

ADSL, Fibre, LTE, Microwave – Which is better?

The trick to choosing the medium on which your data is delivered is generally to look at the price. You generally get what you pay for. Often there is a misconception that fibre is super-fast and better than ADSL. There are some really bad fibre providers that contend and throttle upload speeds on their connections and offer poor backup service for their product. In these cases ADSL or LTE (Wireless) could be a better option.

In the wireless space, LTE is the ADSL replacement and is broadcast from mobile phone towers. These connections require a SIM card and the range between tower and your router need to be a maximum of about 6km. LTE can obtain super-fast speeds of over 100mbit per second. There are new technologies being developed to increase and improve these speeds. 5G is now available in some urban areas and is estimated to be 15% to 50% faster than 4G or LTE.

The issue with these mobile carrier bandwidth is as per ADSL, they are dependent on shared usage. If a tower is oversubscribed, latency issues can occur. Already Telkom are restricting the number of connections from one SIM to the network. This makes LTE a bad choice as a business class connection solution.

Microwave like fibre is usually a lower contention point to point dedicated source. Microwave is generally used where fibre is unavailable. Speed through microwave is very similar to fibre, however it is more susceptible to outages due to it requiring high sites from which to broadcast. High sites are susceptible to power outages and other issues due to harsh weather and interference from other radios nearby.

So how do I make a choice?

Firstly you need to understand your bandwidth requirements. Call in an expert to look at your environment and assess your current bandwidth needs as well as any plans for the future that may involve these needs changing.

Identify what is available in your area. Speak to the major ISP’s and see what is on offer. Speak to other businesses in the area and get a feel for what they use and what is recommended.

Check the contract length with the provider. In technology things change fast. Where there was once only one option, in a year there may be a few. Stick to a 12 month contract if possible.

Read the fine print, especially the backup service level agreement. When your connection goes down, how long will it take to be responded to and fixed? What are the consequences to the provider of it not being fixed within the time frame given?

Coltek is happy to help you make your choice. Give our experienced staff a call and ensure you are well informed in making your decision.

Coltek is a Technology consulting and solution provider for businesses of all sizes. We look at all aspects of Technology and recommend solutions, improvements as well as maintenance within the business.  We are concerned with your overall Technology footprint as well as your roadmap going into the future, so you are not left in the past. Contact us at |