back to article Thought your household broadband was pants? Small biz has it worse

Smaller businesses tend to be worse off for broadband connections than average users, particularly in urban areas, according to an official report on the UK's digital infrastructure. Market regulator Ofcom said that its 2014 report underlined the importance of its new programme of work for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), …

  1. SwiffedIT

    BT are the problem

    I live (and work) on Rose Street, Edinburgh. BT have made it quite clear they have no intention of upgrading the exchange (ESROS) to fibre, so I'm stuck with a 16Mb/2Mb connection (ADSL2+ Annex M) despite having a 37m line.

    Of course BT don't want to upgrade the exchange - it is surrounded by businesses who they hope to fleece for leased lines.

    It's a shame OFCOM have no teeth to force them to make the much needed changes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: BT are the problem

      Why isn't another company stepping in to meet the demand? If there's demand and the chance of a profit, surely one company opting out of providing service just creates a gap that another will fill? Do Virgin operate in Edinburgh?

      1. vmistery

        Re: BT are the problem

        "Why isn't another company stepping in to meet the demand? If there's demand and the chance of a profit, surely one company opting out of providing service just creates a gap that another will fill? Do Virgin operate in Edinburgh?"

        Because Virgin do the same - extract more money from you by putting in proper Fibre. We had exactly this situation.

        1. rhydian

          Re: BT are the problem

          We had to use VM Business cable for one site because they were the only firm who could supply us without going down the leased line route. 50/5 isn't mega quick, but it works pretty well.

      2. SwiffedIT

        Re: BT are the problem

        Virgin are available in some parts of Edinburgh, but not most of Rose Street and other 'protected areas'.

    2. Roby

      Re: BT are the problem

      Same situation here. City centre, the exchange we are connected to has been fibre enabled for many years, residential buildings across the street have had it for years, but as a business our cabinet has not been connected. BT is hoping that businesses will pay a lot for leased lines, so they intentionally do not connect fibre to cabinets that primarily serve businesses.

      BT is simply being competitive. They can make more money by not providing fibre to businesses, so someone needs to intervene to make them do it. All the focus has been on rural areas, but there are these paradoxical not-spots in the business areas of the largest cities of the UK, when apartment buildings 20 metres away were amongst the first to get it.

      1. Sherrie Ludwig

        Re: BT are the problem

        If the residential buildings across the street have fibre and your business doesn't, and you need the speed the solution is obvious: rent an apartment across the street (could share with next-door businesses?) and run IT out of it. Could use the place as a business-owned "hospitality suite" for meetings or putting up the odd guest. I'm across the pond, don't know if it would fly under Brit tax and biz laws. But if the situation is actually as described, it would be a cold day in Hades before I would bow to that kind of extortion. Run the numbers, meet with other local businesses and see if it works.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: BT are the problem

      Of course BT don't want to upgrade the exchange - it is surrounded by businesses who they hope to fleece for leased lines.

      Or, more correctly, BT don't want the hassle of small businesses who want business SLAs for domestic prices, and will give BT too much grief when they don't get what they "expect".

      If you started a distribution company in your garage, would you complain about the lack of Motorway access to your driveway if your business became so successful you started delivering in 10-tonne loads?

      1. rhydian

        Re: BT are the problem

        "Or, more correctly, BT don't want the hassle of small businesses who want business SLAs for domestic prices, and will give BT too much grief when they don't get what they "expect"."

        Business ADSL/FTTC costs are higher than domestic ones, and the SLA is usually next business day, so not overly onerous compared to the two business day Openreach now has to apply to domestic lines.

        Next day and same day are more expensive still.

  2. fridaynightsmoke

    No FTTC for us

    We're a business based on one of your standard Midlands industrial estates. The houses over there have FTTC at 80Mbps, as do the houses over there. On the industrial estate itself, we've got ~6Mbps ADSL (rising towards the parts closer to the exchange), and BT won't put FTTC in on the basis of "screw you, you're a business; get a leased line for £700/mo".

    I really don't know what the answer is, we get by on 6Mbps for now, even though bandwidth requirements continue to rise. I don't like the idea of forcing service with regulation, and a leased line is very difficult to justify. I guess we could approach one of the bigger neighbours to piggyback on the line they almost certainly have, but how on earth would that work, either legally or technically? Bonding would also be an option if needed, we already have half a dozen telephone lines, of which a couple could be bonded, allowing us to use VOIP and ditch the rest.

    1. rhydian

      Re: No FTTC for us

      Its saddening, but reassuring, to hear from someone in the same ridiculous situation as us. For most offices under 30 users a business grade FTTC connection would be ample bandwidth. However telcos don't want to roll these out, much prefering long term contracted EFM/leased lines.

    2. zapper

      Re: No FTTC for us

      We have exactly the same problem. Cabinet other side of the street for the domestic users FTTC - the industrial estate this side - zip, we are lucky with 4mb, we can have fibre, for £17000 install, and because the 'street' has fibre BT class it as 'available', so we will never get any realistic speeds on our estate - so we have 3 BB lines, two bonded, just to get a reasonable service that is just about workable.

      At home? we get VM cable at silly speeds for £40pcm

    3. vmistery

      Re: No FTTC for us

      We had this problem for ages until we just gave up and had Fibre installed. Your only real option is ADSL bonding if you just need download speeds or EFM if you want upload speeds too but you would cry at the speeds you will get compared to a FTTC connection! I am hoping that 4G will sort things out a bit.

    4. JC_

      Re: No FTTC for us

      Bonding would also be an option if needed, we already have half a dozen telephone lines, of which a couple could be bonded, allowing us to use VOIP and ditch the rest.

      Our small office of 12 people has FTTC and it's great (lucky us), but using it for VoIP is something we've often considered but never quite had the courage for. The internet connection has only gone down a couple of times in the past few years, but the plain old phone lines have never died. Once I learned that a SLA just meant getting just a pro-rata refund for the time the connection was down, my confidence went.

      Has anyone out there taken the gamble? If so, how'd it go?

      1. rhydian

        Re: No FTTC for us

        We outfitted a 4 person office with FTTC and VoIP in August. Once the internet connection was up and running we were off. Call quality etc. perfectly reasonable.

        We did have an outage recently (our supplier, Voipfone, had a major issue) but that was an hour or two. As you say, the real problem is that despite the lack of any technical cleverness, a standard phone line very rarely breaks.

    5. b166er

      Re: No FTTC for us

      You've hit the nail on the head there me ol' fruit.

      If small businesses had enough bandwidth, they'd jump on the VoIP bandwagon sharpish. More lost revenue for Bastard Telecom.

      It also amazes me how wasteful of money BT are. I worked in a business centre in a large town just outside Glasgow, which was supplied by a 200pair cable from one exchange and a 50pair cable from a different exchange. The 200pair was so congested (imagine @40 broadband circuits through that) and the frame in the business centre was the old solder type.

      There was a BT van in the car park there every week at least, without fail. They would come in and fix the complaint,only to cause another fault for a different tenant. BT engineers no longer carry the equipment to properly terminate with a solder connection, so they just wrap it around and hope for the best.

      Last time I was in the frame closet, I noticed an Openreach engineer had scrawled on the wall 'pure quality' (a common colloquialism in those parts)

  3. Chloe Cresswell Silver badge

    ""Superfast" broadband is generally defined as delivering speeds of at least 30bps, while "ultrafast" connections could potentially deliver up to 1Gbps."

    Someone forgot their multiples again? 30bps? ;)

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A rock and a hard place...

    Most of the trouble with "business" lines is that telcos and the government view domestic broadband as being ADSL/VDSL/Cable, but business as being EFM/Leased line.

    For a small office doing the usual admin work, a decent ADSL/VDSL/Cable connection will probably be sufficient IF you can get one. Many out of town "business parks" are connected up to whatever old scrappy bit of string there is running back to the nearest (usually small village) exchange.

    A few cases in point from our company:

    1: Office located in Cardiff Bay. Massive investment been over the last 15 years. Few buildings older than that. Lots of offices, retail and housing developments. Internet provision? 4mbit ADSL if you were lucky, as all the phone lines ran 2 miles across town to the exchange. VDSL/FTTC? Nope. Luckily there is VM business cable. Upload isn't great, but for £50 a month for 50/5, versus £x00 a month for 10/10 leased line is more palatable for a smaller firm.

    2: Office located on a new business park in North Wales. Loads of office buildings. ADSL however went back to an exchange over 2.5 miles away, making 2mbit seem rather good. Then FTTC came to one side of the park. The problem was the other side was deemed to be adequately served by a 3rd party wireless supplier (30mbit for £525 a month), so no FTTC for us...

    3: A small, two person office in a community centre just off a North Wales housing estate. FTTC, 40/10 speed (with phones) for £40 a month...

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: A rock and a ransom strip.

      Sometimes lack of decent connectivity can be blamed on business park developers. Namely they don't consider communications services when developing sites. Or they view those as services that should be bought through the Estate/FM company at a hefty premium. Otherwise as many estates are private property, trying to provide services means trying to negotiate wayleaves, often at a high cost. Or show us their shiney new comms/fibre distribution room and look put out when asked why they installed multimode to feed a 20 acre site.

      If there were competitive and practical access to ducts, splice chambers etc etc, businesses on industrial or retail parks may get more choice but generally there's no incentive for providers to do that.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A rock and a ransom strip.

        This particular business park is a number of seperate buildings with standard Openreach cabs and ducting. There are two Openreach cabs serving the park. The one serving one half of the park has been enabled under the rural broadband rollout, the other hasn't. This is due to "superfast" (read 30mbit) being available via a wireless link from a large "Technium" managed services building. So one side of the park gets 80/20 for £40-£50 a month, the other side gets 30-odd for £500 a month...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Regulatory requirements for a phone line need to be updated

    Ofcom currently only require that a phone line can be used for phone calls and 64 kbps of data.

    Until the data spec is raised, there will be no guarantee that any line will support anything above this.

    I'm just having my line regraded to ADSL2+ after the "upgrade" to VDSL left me with LOWER upload speeds and similar download speeds for a £150 / year price hike.

    There are no regulatory requirements what so ever for upload speeds.

    1. rhydian

      Re: Regulatory requirements for a phone line need to be updated

      Yep, Openreach's SLA is for voice and whatever you can throw down the line "as voice" (e.g. fax/moden). ADSL and ISDN are basically "best effort", and if they can't or won't supply them then its your problem.

      This is why I tell people to report any slow broadband fault that's obviously a line fault issue (noises/crackles/no dial tone) as a voice fault and keep broadband out of it.

    2. Chloe Cresswell Silver badge

      Re: Regulatory requirements for a phone line need to be updated

      Client's wife ordered "superfast" upgrade on their long line. 3200 metres to the exchange, 3000 to the cab.

      faulty adsl line (1, not 2/2+) was 5.5/400.

      VDSL2 (self install.. 2 adsl filters no faceplate...) 6.8/375

      After regrade down to adsl1,7.9/448.

      Why couldn't they have fixed the orginal line, I have no idea...

  6. Richy Freeway

    We're stuck with around 8Mbit ADSL2, the industrial estate we're on and the industrial estates near us are surrounded by residential estates that can all get FTTC.

    Us? We've got the fastest connection on our industrial estate and BT have no plans to improve things.

    Oh, and the government grant thing for covering the installation of a leased line or whatever? Doesn't apply in our postcode.


    1. rhydian

      The leased line/superfast broadband "grants", as you say, paid a contribution towards the installation costs of a leased line. The problem is that while the installation costs are pretty considerable on leased lines, they're usually less than two months cost of rental, which as a rule is 10 times higher than FTTC.

  7. chivo243 Silver badge

    SMEs with at least one employee?

    Maybe I'm getting old, but are there companies with less than one employee?

    1. rhydian

      Re: SMEs with at least one employee?

      A sole trader has no "employees" (i.e. someone else you pay to work for you)

  8. carlos_c


    City of London and Westminster......only ADSL 2+ but Hackney Islington etc all with office 100mt from fttc enabled exchange chance

  9. Andre Carneiro

    "asking whether collectively we are doing enough to build the infrastructure of the future"

    Obviously the answer is "no"...

  10. Grease Monkey Silver badge

    Business ISPS will put in fibre anywhere if you're willing to pay. The SMEs under discussion here seem to be moaning that they can't get domestic services on business premises. They need to budget for business grade services then there won't be a problem.

  11. noominy.noom

    Same in merika

    This story could have been written in middle America. In the bigger metro areas it is not bad, but away from the urban centers it is ridiculous. In the small city I am in now, my home connection is 10MB DSL and cost $80/month. I live within walking distance of my office. Here in the office I have to pay $1400/month for a 10MB connection. I was in a smaller rural town about 10 years ago (15 miles east of where I am now) and it was way worse. (For reference, I am a couple of hundred miles from Chicago in a town of 200,000.)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All you bastards bleating about paying for "slow" connections at 10+Mbps can sod off.

    We are unable to get anything over 800K/250Kbps via the only provider to the middle of nowhere, BT. (Just measured 868K down and 146K up!) No mobile signal in the main - we now route the mobiles through a femtocell into that same ADSL connection, and it works unless anyone/thing uses the internet whilst on a call. The 1 to 3 second lag in the call can be a bit weird though.

    It is so bad we have now installed satellite internet. This acts as the main connection now, at high cost and we get up to 30Gb a month at about 7.5M down and 2.5M up, but with a latency that makes you wonder if the system is even working with every click.

    And yes, we would love another phone line, but BT won't supply one.

    The local point-to-point supplier is inept beyond description - 13 months of failure, despite line-of-sight - though from reports from other customers around us indicates they get somewhat patchy service and a fraction of the speeds promised, so we may have dodged a bullet there!

    The office in the nearby town has dodgy ADSL, again single (BT) supplier, with no data signal at all 90% of the time (even in the high street!)

    Anyone in a city where there is fibre-speed broadband under 500m away should just deal with it. The makerspace in Birmingham simply hooked into one of the local businesses via radio link for the first year, and now has a free 100M/40Mbps connection after 6pm, with daytime limited to a small fraction of that, via fibre across a rooftop to nearby business. If that becomes an issue, we will hook into a 4G data connection, capped at whatever use the SIM supports each month.

    (Anyone who can't arrange something similar via a data SIM, fibre trailed over a rooftop or the previously mentioned radio links shouldn't even be posting on El Reg, and should hang up their keyboards in shame.)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re: ESROS (Edinburgh Rose Street)

    I am stuck with that terrible exchange as well, not having FTTC is really a negative for business.

    And this world heritage stuff is BS there are lots of nooks and crannies where you can hide a cabinet.

    Even if they are stuck I am certain many businesses would be more than happy to rent out part of their basement or carparking areas - just surround the cabinet with wood or even stonework. I am wondering if it is even feasible to put these things under pavement if appropriately sealed and designed (maybe offset by a slightly higher 'heritage site' initial connection fee).

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