In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to setup internet for your business. We’ll start by showing you how to find the ideal providers for your building, then choose the perfect package, and finally, setup your router to optimize performance.
We’ll also share some tips from IT experts Andy Freivogel and Alexandra Taylor and small business owner Rahul Alim will share his experience setting up internet at his office.
What’s Available in Your Area
Your first step is to confirm which internet service providers (ISP) are available in your area. You can do this using the FCC’s National Broadband Map. Just type your business address in and it will return a list of providers on your census block. Be sure to change the filter to “Show Wired” to remove mobile data providers.
While there’s a few large national providers, such as Comcast, Spectrum, AT&T, etc., they’re not available in every state. Likewise, there’s often smaller local providers that may offer competitive pricing and more personal customer service.
What’s Available in Your Building
Next, you’ll want to confirm which ISPs are available in your particular building. It’s not uncommon for some ISPs to only be available in certain buildings in a city, especially if they’re smaller, newer, or based on expanding infrastructure like fiber optic. The easiest way to do this is to ask your neighbors, property manager, or real estate broker. If you share the building with other businesses, chances are there’s already a wired connection from one or more ISPs installed.
You can also often check by entering your address on an ISP’s website. While this will return a quick yes or no to availability, it won’t necessarily tell you who is the most efficient option — like if another ISP is available in your building, for example.
The Different Types of Internet Connections
These are the most commonly available types of internet connections and the differences between them:
- DSL – A Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) is a phone line-based internet connection, although unlike older dial-up technology you can use your phone line at the same time that you’re online. It’s typically the slowest but most affordable option and widely available.
- Cable – Cable internet tends to be faster than DSL, but can fluctuate depending on the number of subscribers in your immediate area using it at the same time. Cable connections can offer fast download speeds (usually around 50 Mbps) but slower upload speeds (around 5 or 10 Mbps).
- Fiber Optic – The newest and fastest type of connection available. Fiber optic connections have extremely fast upload and download speeds (usually 100 Mbps and higher). Also, as a direct connection, your internet does not slow due to other subscribers in your area.
- T1/T3 – A dedicated phone line-based internet connection, which, like DSL, does not tie up your phone line when it’s in use. Traditionally, was this the only way to get reliable high-speed internet (up to ~45 Mbps up and down) for an office. However, these have become less common with the expansion of fiber optic connections.
Generally speaking, a fiber optic connection is going to be the best option for an office with multiple concurrent internet users. Cable is a good backup if fiber is not available in your area, and DSL is a reliable low-cost option.
Talk to Your Neighbors
As with any product or service, the best resource for reviews and recommendations on your internet service are your neighbors who are familiar with the ISPs available in your area.
Rahul Alim of Custom Creatives told us about problems he encountered after setting up a DSL internet connection at his office. One downside to a DSL connection is that speeds can vary depending on your distance from the ISP’s local hub. Sure enough, Rahul found that his internet connection was slow and unreliable and it was affecting his business’ ability to operate.
Fortunately, Rahul was able to work out a deal in which he and a few other neighbors shared the cost of running a new fiber optic internet connection to their area. This helped bring down the cost of what would otherwise be an expensive installation process for any one individual business.
Choosing Your Service Package
The next decision to make will be the level of internet package you subscribe to. This will include your bandwidth (download and upload speeds), bandwidth allocation (any monthly download maximums), as well as other business-related features like service level agreements (SLA) and disaster recovery.
Other than price, bandwidth is the most important variable to consider when choosing an internet plan for your business. Bandwidth is the speed of the internet connection, measured in megabytes per second (Mbps), and includes two numbers:
- Download speed, which is the rate at which you can download or receive files
- Upload speed, which is the rate at which you can upload or send files
For most DSL and cable connections, your download speed will be much higher than your upload speed. This is because internet users tend to do a lot more downloading than uploading, so ISPs optimize their networks for faster downloading. However, if you need to use your internet connection for VoIP phone service, or just to share a lot of big files (such as video or graphics), then you may want to consider a higher upload speed. Newer fiber optic technology often offers the same speeds both down and up
How Much Bandwidth Do I Need?
Below are some approximate estimates of how much bandwidth a small business would need in various scenarios. These are based on estimates from Spectrum as well as our own research:
|Small Office (1 or 2 users)|
|Small Office with VoIP Phone Service|
|Coffee Shop with Public WiFi|
|Medium Office (6 - 20 users) with VoIP Phone Service|
|Large Office (20+ users) with VoIP Phone Service|
Note how VoIP phone service demands a higher upload speed – up to 0.5 Mbps for each concurrent phone line. You can read more about this on our VoIP speed test guide.
Similarly, public WiFi demands a higher download speed. This is because restaurant patrons tend to engage more download-heavy activities, like social media and music streaming, as opposed to upload-heavy activities like file sharing.
Do I Need a Backup Plan?
Your internet connection will sometimes go down; whether it’s caused by extreme weather, construction, or just a system error, internet service can be disconnected – sometimes for days on end. Alexandra Taylor from WAVE BCM told us about a few additional features businesses should look for if they want to minimize any loss of profit due to an outage:
A service level agreement (SLA) is like getting a warranty on your internet service. When an outage occurs, the SLA obligates your provider to fix it within a specified timeframe.
Disaster recovery is a backup internet connection that your business automatically transitions to if your main one ever goes down. Thanks to the wide availability of mobile internet, it’s fairly inexpensive to set up a 4G or LTE connection as a backup. This is a good option for retailers who depend on an internet connection to use their POS system.
Beware Contract Commitments
Many ISPs require their clients to sign contracts for their internet service, often up to three years in length and with costly early cancellation fees. This is especially true in cases like Rahul’s when the ISP had to pay money upfront to install the system.
For example, Spectrum will charge the entire remainder of your contract. Other providers, like Verizon and Comcast, will charge a certain percentage. You’ll typically be liable for fees even if you change locations or go out of business, so it’s essential to consider these factors before making a commitment.
Here’s how a few of the major business ISP contracts compare:
|Contract Length||Early Cancellation Fee|
|Typically 36 months with month-to-month terms available at a higher cost||100% of remaining balance|
|Typically 24 months but minimum of 12 months||75% of remaining balance|
|Typically 24 months with month-to-month terms available at a higher cost||30-day money back guarantee, then 35% of remaining balance|
|Typically 12 months with month-to-month terms available at a higher cost||30-day money back guarantee, then $20 for each remaining month|
Many ISPs will offer month-to-month plans, but at a much higher cost than with a contract commitment. You may also have to pay for installation and hardware up front. However, the benefit is that you can cancel your service at any time without paying additional fees beyond your notice period.
How to Set Up Public WiFi
If you plan to make your WiFi available to your customers, there’s a few extra considerations to make. As Andy Freivogel from Science Retail told us, you want to make sure you’re saving enough bandwidth for your own operations (POS, back office, etc.) in addition to what you offer to the public.
You can do this by setting up two different routers: one that’s password protected and only for your staff, and another that’s publicly available to your patrons. Some routers also offer the option of setting up two networks, foregoing the need for a second router.
Generally speaking, you want to save about 10 Mbps for your staff and POS system. For the public, about 20 Mbps down should serve a typical coffee shop, according to Andy.
Set Up Internet Bandwidth Allocation
For both private and public connections, businesses can get more out of their bandwidth by setting up rules for how it’s used. For example, you can limit Facebook or YouTube to just 1 Mbps of bandwidth. Meanwhile, you can reserve 3 Mbps for your VoIP phone system to ensure calls are never dropped or their quality degraded.
While bandwidth allocation can be helpful to reserve bandwidth for your more essential tasks, using it to limit other websites poses an ethical issue: “Once a business does this, they’ve decided they know what’s best,” explains Andy. At Fit Small Business, we often use social media and YouTube to conduct research (yeah…”research”), so we personally wouldn’t limit them.
Bottom Line: How to Set Up Internet
To set up internet for your business, first confirm which ISPs are available in your building and the connection types and pricing packages they offer. Also consider factors like bandwidth, contract terms, and service level agreements (SLAs). Be sure to find a package that not only offers the speed you need, but also provides some degree of flexibility – like if you plan on changing locations any time soon, for example.
To start comparing the different providers available, be sure to check out our guide on the best business ISP in every US market.