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Should your small business go completely wireless?

Before you decide to ditch your wireline connection completely, understand the tradeoffs in bandwidth, access speed and hidden costs.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

I had a conversation with an IT services company in December that I haven't been able to get off my mind, especially since I have had my share of Internet connectivity challenges in the past two months.

I was talking to this executive about whether or not software as a service was catching hold with his small-business clientele and was shocked to find out that many of his customers are resisting such a notion. Philosophically speaking, many of them don't like the idea that they won't "own" the application they are using. But the even bigger challenge is this: some of them -- even in major, major cities -- still don't have reliable high-speed Internet access.

Yep, the next time someone in New York or California or Georgia or one of the other states where broadband Internet deployments are happening most quickly whines about spotting access or slow connection speeds, they might want to consider what it might be like if they lived somewhere in rural Kansas or Iowa or other states where progress is happening more slowly.

This particular executive, who happens to hail from St. Peters, Mo., related to me a story about how the local telecommunications company wanted one of his clients to pay at least $10,000 for a reasonable Internet connection in its new offices. The even more shocking revelation: this wasn't some historic building that hadn't been refurbished. This was a relatively new office building.

Which brings me to the point of this particular commentary. The severe weather in northern New Jersey over the past three months has really got me thinking about my own Internet access options. I've had to improvise a number of times because of wireline outages, sneaking down to the local coffee shop and library, and also relying on the mobile hotspot service that is part of my iPhone data contract. That has allowed me to tether my notebook computer in a pinch.

Back in early November, after the freak snow storm in the Northeast AND after a service person told me I needed to have all the wires in my house replaced because of squirrel damage and water leakage (I kid you not), I decided to splurge on a mobile wireless hotspot device running on a 4G network and ditch my hard-wired contract. I decided to pay for both for a month or two, before dropping my cable modem entirely.

Long story short, I am glad I waited. There are several reasons why, all of which you should consider if you're contemplating how to get a better handle on expenses related to your Internet connection.

  • Are you impatient? One of the biggest frustrations that I have personally encountered over my experiment with cutting the cord entirely was the connection speed. I don't care what they say about 4G, the fact is that it will be slower than your typical wired high-speed Internet connection.
  • How much data do you really use on a monthly basis? The hotspot contract that I purchased was for 5 gigabytes of data, which seems like a lot except that it really isn't. If you have an iPhone, for example, that needs to update mobile apps with a WiFi connection, it will eat that plan up awfully fast. If you have an iPad, too, suddenly it is mid-month and you will be faced with spending $10 per extra gigabyte of data consumed.
  • Do you use a landline phone line? I wasn't try to angle for special pricing treatment, but when I called to cancel my cable Internet service earlier this week, with some reservations, I was surprised at how flexible the pricing suddenly became. For starters, the company lopped $20 off my monthly fee. (I don't get any sort of special pricing right now, because I don't watch television and don't need that service.) Then things got really interesting. I have been thinking for some time about ditching my home office line, which I use very rarely. I had briefly considered Internet telephony but just kind of got lazy about doing the research and was vaguely worried about the cable line problems I seem to have at least twice a year because of rodents and oak trees in my neighborhood. Yet, I pay roughly $75 per monthly for monthly telephone service, separate of my cable connection. I'm changing that next week, by rolling everything together. I'll be keeping my Internet connection and adding telephony service. Yes, I am taking a bit of a risk. Although, the line problems that I had back in November have mysteriously disappeared even though I didn't pay hundreds of dollars on rewiring. (We'll see if that lasts.) That will make that one bill go up by about $35 per monthly (after the set-up feel and the charge for moving my number). I'm giving it a try, despite a bit of worry over the reliability of my wiring.
  • Understand what you will really save. If you factor in the fact that I am still paying for my mobile hotspot, I will still save at least $45 per month under my new communications scenario. That is because the mobile hotspot will enable me to drop two other fees I have been paying for wireless access. If my line DOES go out again, the mobile hotspot will keep me at my desk instead of roaming around my neighborhood. And, because it can run off battery power, it is a good backup option if the power goes out.

I challenge small businesses to really sit down at the beginning of 2012 and understand what they are truly playing in Internet and mobile data access fees. Chances are, you really don't know what you are paying because some of those bills are being paid by the telecommunications department, some might be run through your IT organization and some might be hitting your travel and entertainment budget line. That latter expense is particularly important to consider, as wireless carriers begin changing their policies for unlimited data plans.

Like me, you might be tempted to go completely wireless, but there will absolutely be tradeoffs in connectivity and the switch might not be as cost-effective as you think.

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