Back in the broadband prehistoric era, it was normal in a small IT company to share a 64kbps leased line between four or five people. Back in the late 1990s this was more than adequate as e-commerce was only starting, and the fax machine and telephone were still king and any major work meant travelling to a customer or data centre.
Fast forward 15 years and the landscape has changed dramatically, with companies looking for at least 20Mbps connections, and those planning ahead looking at 50Mbps and faster.
In 2012, it is entirely possible to work from home for weeks at a time, using Twitter, Skype and email to stay in touch with other colleagues, and customers rarely phone up, preferring to use e-mail. Product demonstrations can be carried out live using a broadband connection, and upgrades to software are feasible even to customers who are located abroad.
The problems arise when you have four or five people in an office, or it is update Tuesday. The need for faster broadband is so that rather than an office grinding to a halt because one member of staff is downloading Windows 9 RC1, everyone can continue to use the connection.
For businesses, this can mean that office premises can reduce in size, as staff can hot desk, it also gives employees more freedom in where they live. As if you can work from home four out of five days a week, living close to the train station is less of a worry.
Things never stay still in the IT world, and these days it is all about secure VPNs and the cloud. While current generate broadband allows use of these, the speed of large data backups across most broadband services is still slow.
Ultrafast services and reliable bandwidth will give much better upload speeds and we are already seeing 20Mbps upload services appearing. At these speeds, an IT company can ensure that remote workers data is quickly uploaded to secure storage. Video conferencing moves up to the next level and you don’t have to make sure no-one downloads a large service pack at the same time.
Better mobile broadband as in 4G and widespread Wi-Fi also means that for smaller IT firms, even if no-one is in the office, so long as one member of staff has access to a Wi-Fi or mobile network using even just a decent tablet or phone they can remotely access systems and fix urgent problems.
Cloud computing is very much a buzz phrase. For some it just means an online cyber-locker where staff can share documents. For others, it represents a return to the thin client model and it is this that is most appealing, since it means that rather than every IT company office having a noisy, heat generating cupboard full of kit, this reduces to just broadband connection hardware.
One aspect of IT that is changing as systems become more complex is the rise of video demonstrations. The old adage that a picture speaks a thousand words is even more true of video, which is many pictures per second. Watching a demonstration of a new feature for a product is often easier than trying to understand a manual, as you can see exactly what the person is doing.
If a company is producing software products that customers will use, producing these videos is very easy now, with screen capture software and cheap video cameras, where many fail is by uploading a low quality copy to YouTube. High Definition video helps to add polish to a product, consider it the same as the packaging for a product, while it needs to be functional, it does help to sell a service. The problem with most current generation broadband is the time it takes to upload HD material, which the next generation of ultra-fast broadband will solve.
Nothing I’ve talked about cannot be accomplished in 2012, but all too often the price point of a service that can cope with the peaks in speed required are outside most small IT companies budgets. While we have seen Government investment in ten large cities, and more for another smaller ten, which can look to be too little money for what the aim is, hopefully this will provide enough stimulus to trigger wider commercial roll-outs of ultra-fast broadband.
Ethernet services that can sustain 30Mbps speeds for hour after hour often still run to £1000s a month, but unless you need to support a 100 home workers all connecting at once, there is little need. Hopefully the investment into the cities will mean that the gulf between heavily contended consumer like broadband and 1:1 contention services will be bridged by something that offers the speeds we would all love, but without having to chop an arm and a leg off to pay for it.