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Unit 2, 10 Kam Close
Morisset Industrial Park NSW 2264,
Australia

49705842

All-weather labels, tags and signage. 
Water-proof. Long-lasting.

Understanding Internet Connections

Green Geek

Dr Joseph Sweeney has a long history in horticultural labelling, barcode and supply chain management.  He has worked extensively with both public and private sector organisations on a broad range of technology initiatives, including electronic document interchange (EDI), the Greater China region’s adoption of EAN barcodes and product identification numbers, e-commerce, software design and project management.

Since working on the development of TyTags’ initial labelling solutions more than 30 years ago, Joseph has been actively involved in supply chain management issues throughout the Asia Pacific and Australasian region.  Most recently, he spearheaded the development of Australia’s first just-in-time colour digital labelling solution for horticulture and environmental uses.

Better known in horticultural circles as the Green Geek, Joseph writes a monthly article published in Hort Journal Australia  identifying and demystifying  IT from the perspective of growers and nursery managers.

In addition to his role within the family business, Joseph is also an advisor with Intelligent Business Research Services, the largest independent Australian technology advisory and research firm. At IBRS, he guides clients in the planning, selection and deployment of new technologies.

 

Understanding Internet Connections

Kascha Sweeney

In this article, I am going to assume your business already has an internet connection. It was probably put in years ago and you’ve gotten used to it. However, there has been a lot of change in the internet service provider (ISP) over the past decade: smaller ISPs have been acquired, rural access has seen a little improvement here and there, and of course there is the National Broadband Initiative (NBN).  Also, it’s a sure bet that your business is using the Internet more now than ever before, and as cloud computing becomes more common, you’ll be using your internet connections even more in the near future.  Therefore in this article I am going to provide you with an overview of the current technologies with which your business can connect to the internet. Your homework is to take a look at your current Internet service plan and decide if it still meets you needs, or is it time to change plans and get more bandwidth for your bucks.

ADSL

ADSL stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line service. It is called asymmetric because download speed is not equal to upload speed (download is faster than upload).  ADSL is no longer popular in urban areas, because in comparison to ADSL 2+ (see below), plain old lADSL is relatively slow. However, for many businesses in rural areas, ADSL is the best that you can get and for a small business with just one or two computers connecting concurrently, is good enough.

The pros:

Much faster and more reliable than dial-up connections. Is available in more rural locations than ADSL 2+ and is less costly than Satellite connections; all you need is a modem (plus a wireless router if you want wifi) which most ISPs will include for free when you sign up for a 24 month plan.

The cons:

inconsistency with speed and relatively limited bandwidth.

ADSL2

ADSL2 (ITU G.992.3 and G.992.4) adds new features and functionality targeted at improving performance and interoperability and adds support for new applications and services. Among the changes are improvements in ADSL's data rate, an increase in the distance ADSL can reach from the local telephone exchange, dynamic data rate adaptation, better resistance to noise, diagnostics, and a stand-by mode to save power. That’s all geek-speak simply means ADSL2 is a big improvement over the older ADSL.

The pros:

Better speed and reliability than ADSL.

The cons:

Speed dependent on ISP and internet plan.

ADSL2+

ADSL2+ (ITU G.992.5) is the next step up from ADSL2 and is now the most common connection type for urban households. ADSL2+ doubles available bandwidth for downloading internet traffic (it’s theoretically twice as fast as ADSL).  Unfortunately. ADSL2+ has a limited range. If your property is too far from the nearest ADSL2+ enabled exchange, you will not be able to get it.  In addition, many exchanges in rural towns do not yet have ADSL2+.  So while ADSL2+ is the most desirable type of Internet connection (well, second only to the NBN), there is a good chance it will not be available in the areas where nursery people work.

The pros:

ADSL2+ solutions will interoperate with legacy ADSL & ADSL2 equipment. However, it is the speed that is the real and relatively low cost of ADSL2+ that makes it the winning choice.

The cons:

not available nationwide.

Naked ADSL

Naked ADSL (or Naked DSL) is a term that refers to an ADSL (or ADSL2 or ADSL2+) service that can be installed on a phone line that doesn't have an active phone number attached to it. It's a service that's particularly worthwhile for anyone who does not use their landline to make phone calls, and also for anyone who uses voice over IP (VoIP) service (like Skype) instead of a regular landline to make phone calls.  The benefit of Naked ADSL plans are that you save money on rental of voice phone line that you don’t use. However, I have noted that the savings are generally minor: generally less than $10 a month when compared to a bundled voice phone line plus internet connection.

The pros:

The advantage of Naked ADSL versus a traditional ADSL or ADSL2+ Internet service is that you don't need a phone number attached to your line in order to get the service, which means you don't have to pay line rental (to Telstra, for example). A rental fee for the physical copper line still applies, but Internet service providers (ISPs) factor this into the pricing of their Naked ADSL plans.

The cons:  

You may miss having the fixed line connection as a backup voice phone line.

Wireless 3G and Wireless 4G

Also called Mobile Data and Mobile Internet, Wireless 3G and 4G connections use the mobile telephony network to send and receive internet .  For our industry, this is not just a matter of “getting Internet on the go.”  In some locations, it is actually easier to get a mobile phone connection than a fixed line. In these situations, connecting to the internet via a 3G or 4G connection may be the best option.  

The difference between 3G and 4G comes down to speed.  While most mobile providers offer 3G connections, which are ‘good enough’ for a single user, Telstra is slowly replacing all of its mobile phone towers to run 4G connections, which are super-fast in comparison. Of course, you need to have a phone or ‘wireless hub’ that works with the Telstra’s new 4G service.

If you were to use 3G / 4G connection for your office, you would need to purchase either a USB Wireless Internet modem for each computer you wish to connect to the network, or purchase what is called a “3G / 4G wireless hub.”    The devices, also called Wi-Fi Hotspots, will access a single 3G or 4G mobile connection, and then broadcast a small, local Wi-Fi network for several (usually up to 5) computers. These devices are fantastic for a small office that can’t get dedicated fixed lines, or for computing outside of the normal office (such as in the workshed).

The pros:

Quick set set up, portable and a much cheaper set up than satellite connections.

The cons:

Signal strength - and thus speed and reliability of connection - depends on location. Reception quality is also impacted by obstructions such as trees, buildings, landforms.  Any large obtrusive objects (like your tractor parked outside!) can actually interfere with your connection. It is especially difficult to get strong mobile data strength in valleys, unless your telco has a tower nearby.  For many of us in the country, it is a bit of a lottery as to which providers will give us acceptable signal strength in any given location: the ‘coverage maps’ are far from accurate in any practical sense.  So before you sign onto a mobile data plan, ask a friend who has a mobile phone connected to the provider you are thinking of using to come out and test the connections.

Satellite

In Australia, some locations - like our property which is just 6km from the local exchange - have poor fixed line connections and almost no mobile connection. In these locations, getting any form of ADSL is impossible (as the ISPs will let you know) and mobile data is also out of the question. In these cases, the only alternative is to use a Satellite-based Internet connection. This involves heavy investment in a satellite dish and special modem, and the monthly data allowances (how much internet stuff you can access) are generally very limited in comparison to ADSL2+ plans. As such, using a satellite hook up should be the last option.

The pros:

May be the only option for people living in rural and regional areas.

The cons:

The investment required for a satellite connection does not come cheap: running a little over $2000.  Also satellite connections are slower than 4G mobile data connections (or more correctly, there is higher ‘latency’)   since data travels into outer space, not just the nearest cell tower.  The satellite option should be your last choice for connecting to the internet.

The NBN

Finally, Australia has the NBN, or the National Broadband Network initiative. This new network aims to bring internet connections, that are vastly faster and more reliable than all forms of current wireless and fixed line technologies, by utilising optical fibers. Basically, the ‘pipes’ of the internet are to be changed from physical copper wires or radio signals that are impacted by distance, to optical cables that transmit data using light. Without going into too much detail, optical networks are more reliable and carry more data at a speed that is, well, light fast. One of the NBN’s key aims was to provide fast internet to rural Australians: the existing telecommunications carriers were not doing this, even with the older copper technologies, because it was simply not profitable enough for them.

Unfortunately, the NBN has become a political football and it is unlikely to survive the next election in its current form. For those of us in the country, it’s likely we will continue to have to weak connectivity to online services for at least the next ten to fifteen years. This means it will be a little more difficult (though not impossible) and a little more expensive to take advantage of the economic benefits of services such as online accounting, remote collaboration, digital marketing and sales, online education, etc.  

What’s right for you?

If you are one of the lucky few to have NBN access in your area, grab it with both hands. If ADSL2+ is available, that would be the next best option, followed by ADSL.

However, if you cannot get any of the above, the decision moves to looking at either satellite or 3G / 4G connections. In general, I would recommend trying the 3G / 4G mobile data approach before moving to satellite. While the data throughput of 3G / 4G connections may be (theoretically) more limited than satellite, in practice I have found the opposite. More importantly, the initial investment required for using 3G / 4G mobile data is far lower, and even if the performance proves insufficient, these mobile connections can be moved to other locations without any problem. Not so with satellites, which are both expensive (and require a skilled technician) to set up and fix in place.