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COMMENTARY

Small Businesses Can Benefit from a Speedy Net Connection


By Shakil Ahmed

I've been writing about DSL and Cable modem technology extensively because lately I probably get asked about getting a broadband connection to the Internet more than any other topic. And it stands to reason: A faster connection to the Internet is no longer a luxury if you own a small businesses. It's becoming a necessity. So dear readers, instead of calling me at the office I'm going to attempt to answer your questions in this column.


Question: Can my business really benefit from a fast Internet connection?

Answer: Yes, and I'll explain why.

Nowadays small business people in Hawaii utilize the Internet for a number of activities such as doing research, reading the news, checking out the competition, buying online or (while on lunch hour) checking on their portfolios. In addition to e-mail, small businesses use the Net to communicate directly with customers in ways they have never done before. For example companies from law firms to engineering operations need to transfer plans, proposals, financial data and other documents to customers and suppliers on a regular basis.

In a nutshell, the Net provides an incredibly valuable asset to Hawaii companies by allowing us to efficiently do business with people on the mainland or Asia. Besides the ability to transfer documents, we can also tap into web sites and upload product updates or content.

In this same vein, the ASP or application service provider offers island businesses access to applications over the Net. What this means is that a small company in Honolulu or Hilo doesn't have to go the trouble of buying a very expensive or very complex application when it can "rent" the product and do what work needs to be done through the Internet.

Exchanging bits and bytes with customers over the Net isn't necessarily limited to photos or documents. An application that is finding great favor with Hawaii Businesses is Internet Telephony aka "Voice over IP". Simply put, this turns your computer into a long distance telephone enabling decent voice communication with friends or business associates over the Internet instead of the traditional phone system. The voice quality of this technology is not quite as good as the traditional telephone but it's improving rapidly. The other day I spoke to a friend in Europe with a free Voice over IP service from Yahoo that sounded as good as a speaker phone. The quality was a bit herky-jerky but a quantum leap better than it was just a year or two ago.

These are great examples of "Internet-enabling" applications that are only possible because of a speedy Internet connection.

However, many local businesses are still using what the phone company calls POTS, or plain old telephone service, to connect to the Net. This entails using a dial up modem which is in actuality much slower than the promised 56K. Other problems inherent in this technology are delays in getting connected, and long upload times for large documents.

Your best options? In Hawaii you have the option of getting DSL service over existing telephone lines . The price starts at about $30 per month for an existing phone line that sends out (uploads) your data at 384 kilobits per second (Kbps) and receives or downloads at 128 Kbps. This works fine for most small businesses. Pay more money and you can always get more capacity.

If your business has more than say six employees and you need 24/7 tech support prices range from $100 to $300 a month. Closer to $300 per month entails faster two-way connection speeds up to 1.1 megabit speed. Another option for most Hawaii users (usually in residential areas) is the cable modem. It offers very fast connections--up to 50 times faster than a standard modem. Prices can range from $40 to $80 a month beyond your cable bill depending on the type of service you need from them.

One last thing: Security. With DSL and cable, you are always connected to the Internet which eliminates dial up modem hassles. The caveat is that you'll need to install a software or hardware firewall to keep your data secure. Fortunately there is some excellent free firewall software available online from www.zonealarm.com or www.blackice.com. Or, if you need tech support you can buy software from Symantec and McAfee.

The time consuming element in this process is getting everything to work together. You'll need help from your ISP and you'll undoubtedly have to hire a local consultant to patch things together. Fortunately, there are some very good consultants here in Hawaii. Once you're up you'll never want to go back to dialup. I promise!
Shakil Ahmed is the founder of PDC Systems, a Honolulu computer and networking company established in 1991. Questions or comments should be addressed to askshak@pdcsystems.com

Published January 12, 2001

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