Discover the key differences between leased lines and broadband, and find out which would benefit your business
Since the demise of slow and unreliable dial-up services, it can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that broadband is the only game in town when it comes to connecting to the internet. But while that might be true for domestic use, when it comes to businesses there are alternatives such as leased lines which may offer a more attractive option. So when you’re looking at connection options for your business, which is better – leased line or broadband?
What’s a leased line?
Put simply, a leased line is a connection between two points that you rent for your exclusive use. It can connect directly from your premises to the data centre of your service provider, or between your own sites. This is usually delivered using a fibre optic connection but can be via technology like Ethernet first mile over copper cables.
What purpose does a leased line serve? The advantages of leased line over broadband are that you can obtain better performance with cloud-based applications because you can have the same speed in both directions (synchronous connection), there will also be no contention from other businesses or individuals using the link, so it will maintain its performance levels even at peak times.
How is this different from broadband?
Broadband is the internet service you have at home. Unlike a leased line it’s a shared connection once it leaves your building and the speeds it delivers will vary depending on the type of link. The advantages of broadband are that it’s readily available almost everywhere in the UK and it comes at a much lower cost than a leased line. The downside is that it’s an asynchronous connection – which means downloads are faster than uploads – and it’s a contended link which means that at peak times of day performance may suffer as more people are using the connection to download data.
It’s easy to think that broadband is a pretty standard product, but in fact, connections differ quite a bit because the service can be delivered in different ways. Conventional broadband uses the ordinary copper telephone connections from the exchange to your location and therefore delivers the slowest speeds. It’s affected by distance too, so the further you are from the local exchange, the slower the connection available to you will be. Nowadays, however, most areas of the country have access to fibre optic broadband but this too isn’t all the same, it comes in two types.
Most common is fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) where the optic fibre terminates at a street cabinet and the final stretch to your premises is carried over existing copper cables. This is faster than normal all-copper broadband, but because a copper circuit is involved the performance will vary depending on how far you are from the cabinet and therefore how much conventional cable is involved. That said, the effect will be less severe than on an all-copper circuit. If you live in an urban area you may be able to get fibre to the premises (FTTP) where the fibre service is delivered directly to your building. This is the fastest broadband option, offering download speeds of 200 Mbps or more, but it isn’t as widely available as the others and is of course costlier.
Making the choice
Which is better – leased line or broadband? It really depends on your business and how you intend to use the internet. If your everyday internet usage is light, with activities such as sending email, surfing the web and the odd bit of cloud storage for backing up files, then a broadband connection – particularly a fibre one – will probably meet your needs. If you operate outside of normal office hours, however, bear in mind that you’re likely to suffer from contention due to lots of other people accessing services like Netflix and iPlayer in the evening. This can happen at other times too of course, especially if you’re in an area where lots of other businesses all access the internet at the same time during the day.
Where the leased line and broadband difference really makes itself felt is in the more intensive use of the internet for business purposes. For example, if you’re a heavy user of cloud services for your critical business systems, as increasing numbers of businesses are today, then the guaranteed speed of a leased line connection and its two-way speed advantage may be preferable.
Leased lines are also useful where you have branch offices or home and field workers accessing your office network remotely. High bandwidth services like video conferencing or VoIP phone calls may also benefit from using a leased line, particularly the fact that upload and download speeds are the same. The nature of your business comes into play here too; if you regularly need to upload large files – sending documents to printers maybe, or uploading machine tool information for manufacturing – then you’ll get major benefit from a leased line giving equal upload and download speeds.
Which is the right choice for your business?
You also need to think about the number of people who will be regularly using the service within your organisation. As your business grows and more people need to use the connection, it’s time to start thinking about installing a leased line in preference to broadband. This also applies if you are sharing information regularly with your trade customers and suppliers as part of developing an integrated supply chain. The reliability and speed of a leased line will help deliver on digital transformation projects and give all users of the system a better quality of experience while accessing your network. This, in turn, is likely to benefit overall productivity.
Another important factor to think about is how vital systems are to your business. What effect would it have on your operations if you were to lose internet access for a day, or just for a few hours? Would it be simply an inconvenience that you could work around? Or would you rapidly start to lose business and money? If the latter is the case then a leased line is likely to be a better choice thanks to guaranteed service levels and support that’s geared to business needs.
You need to take account of the drawbacks of leased lines too. These are few but are important. A leased line is more expensive because you are paying for a dedicated circuit. They also take longer to install because they may require a new circuit to be installed to your premises rather than using existing phone lines.
Deciding which is better – leased line or broadband is not just about the service, the choice of service provider is something you need to think seriously about too. The best suppliers will be able to provide you with a tailored service level agreement that meets the needs of your business and also ensures that they deliver a reliable service that is in line with your needs.
You will need to consider the skills and technology the service provider has to offer. How quickly will they be able to fix problems, and how much understanding do they have of the technical side of the product they’re selling? Look for reassurance, from things such as professional accreditations relating to the skills needed to maintain the connection.
Check out independent reviews of the service provider too. If possible ask the supplier if you can speak to existing clients to get a feel for what the company is like to work with and how reliable their services are likely to be.
To recap then, the key difference between broadband and leased lines comes down to the routing of data from your business to the data centre of your service provider. A leased line connects your premises directly to the ISP’s data centre, whereas broadband routes data over a public network used by lots of other people.
This means there are some key differences in operation. These relate not only to the speeds available in each direction but also to the number of people that will be sharing the connection at any given time. Which is best for your business will depend on how you use the internet and how many people work on a particular site. Once you’ve taken all of these factors into account, the choice of circuit that is right for your business should become clear.