Fast, reliable business connectivity on tap

Companies must recognise the importance of a well-designed office fibre infrastructure and consider key aspects of designing the right connectivity.
Tim Wood
By Tim Wood, Executive head, information systems and technology, Vox.
Johannesburg, 11 Mar 2024
Tim Wood, executive head: IS and IT at Vox.
Tim Wood, executive head: IS and IT at Vox.

South Africa’s fibre-to-the-home rollout has been nothing short of phenomenal. It facilitated the rapid move to remote working that was sprung upon us by the pandemic and has changed the paradigm for household connectivity and home offices.

However, it would be a mistake to assume that fibre-to-the-business (FTTB) is any less important as a result of this trend. On the contrary, more and more staff are returning to the office for full-time on-premises work, or some kind of a hybrid work arrangement.

In addition, the inevitable and unstoppable shift towards cloud and digital infrastructure is forcing businesses to make office connectivity a priority. Cloud migration and computing, digital transformation, leveraging big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, unified communications and omnichannel − this all necessitates fast, reliable connectivity.

The inevitable and unstoppable shift towards cloud and digital infrastructure is forcing businesses to make office connectivity a priority.

However, before businesses rush out and order the first service they can find, they should consider key aspects of designing the right connectivity environment.

A solution must be designed in a way that understands the unique requirements of each business, while ensuring its digital transformation needs are met. The design process goes far beyond just mapping out fibre links − and good partners know this.

Technical scoping and cost-efficiency

Implementing the right connectivity for each business’s requirement and budget is key and needs to factor in the following:

Broadband or dedicated internet access (DIA): If reliable, uncontended high-performance access is a non-negotiable, then go for DIA even though it comes at a premium to broadband's shared, “best-effort” connectivity.

GPON or Active Ethernet: Active Ethernet deployments run over dedicated fibre links and guarantee reliable performance but at a higher cost to GPON's use of shared fibre links.

Bandwidth: Internet service providers (ISPs) offer internet services with bandwidth (speed) options ranging from 5Mbps to 1Gbps, and in some cases, even higher line speeds of up to 10Gbps. When deciding on the appropriate bandwidth, a branch should assess the number of users who will be utilising the connectivity simultaneously. It is more precise to consider the total number of devices that will connect and the amount of traffic these devices will download and upload.

Scoping the link for peak utilisation that may be once a week on a Monday morning, for example, does imply a higher cost. In a hybrid working environment, business should look at scheduling office utilisation to smooth out the connectivity requirement.

Bandwidth symmetry: Traditionally, business connectivity deployments have used symmetrical line speeds, but cost-effective asymmetrical options are now becoming more prevalent. These options allow for slower upload speeds for offices that consume more data than they upload.

Static versus dynamic public IP addressing: A static public IP address remains constant and provides a fixed point of reference for devices connected to the internet and is ideal for hosting websites, servers or applications that demand uninterrupted accessibility. There are many business use cases that require a static rather than a dynamically assigned IP address. Static IP addressing comes at a cost and is one of the elements to be considered when scoping the solution.

Solution considerations

In the solution design phase, the ISP should talk the company through security and the quality of service for bespoke solutions and traffic prioritisation for certain types of data traffic that are sensitive to packet delays, such as video and voice.

On security, factors such as encryption standards, firewall and intrusion detection/prevention, network segmentation, security policies, authentication mechanisms and even endpoint security should be determined upfront. Ensure the ISP has appropriate security against distributed denial of service attacks.

When considering an FTTB service with a focus on flexibility, it's essential to assess various aspects that allow the business to adapt and scale according to changing needs.

A virtual private network encrypts internet traffic and ensures secure connectivity into the corporate network and facilitates remote work.

Links fail and if zero downtime is important then alternative access routes are essential. Fibre links from alternative fibre network operators are an option, and if not available, a business can consider other technologies, such as a wireless solution.

VOIP solutions have become ubiquitous and have played a key role in reducing communication costs for a business. Collaboration tools such as cloud PBX or video conferencing (including Microsoft Teams) have played a vital role in facilitating remote work and continue to be a critical component of a company's solution framework.

Regarding WiFi, one needs to consider the business coverage area and the number of users or devices that will be connected to the WiFi network.

Implementation considerations

To avoid any surprises, be aware of prerequisites and possible implementation delays. Installation lead times can be longer than expected because of infrastructure readiness at the location, wayleave approval must be obtained before the process can begin, landlord approval is essential for any business renting office space, and more.

Beyond this, the ISP should have expertise and sufficient footprint to meet all needs.

It is abundantly clear that companies need to choose technology partners wisely. Investigate their reach, experience, SLAs, contracts, terms and conditions, and support carefully.

Most importantly, work closely with a partner that understands the importance of well-designed office fibre infrastructure.