Internet has become one of the most essential parts of everyone’s life. More importantly, the Internet has become one of the core elements of business success. Businesses cannot operate normally for a single second if their network is completely out of service. Even just the internet speed slowing down would create enormous frustration for your employees and customers. Because of the importance of the internet in our society, network equipment manufacturers and service providers have gone out of their ways to create so many complicated devices, solutions and services that will fit every business use case. As nice as the sentiment sounds, they created a monster at the same time. Internet infrastructure designs and deployments have become way more complicated and confusing for businesses.
This article will walk you through all the essential elements for building a reliable, robust, and scalable internet for your business. We will cover topics like important terminology, types of internet connections for businesses, key features for scalable networks, and much more. This is the only article you will need to quickly kick start building a well-performing and a future-proof internet for your business. Let’s get started.
Important Network terminology
You may have heard of some of these terms in the past. However, from an internet infrastructure standpoint, they may have different definition from the technological sense. It is necessary for you to go over at least some important terms before you explore your network equipment options for your business.
What is bandwidth
From the Internet point of view, bandwidth is a measure of network data transfer rate capacity. It is one of the first thing you need to know when setting up a network. It is a crucial measurement for understanding the quality of your network.
Many people think bandwidth means the same as the speed of your internet. That is incorrect. Bandwidth refers to the capacity of your data transfer rate. Speed refers to the actual transmitting data rate of the network. Your network infrastructure decides how much bandwidth you have, but your network operating condition decides your speed.
There are also download speed and upload speed, which means your data transmitting rate during download and upload. These two values do not necessarily equal to each other due to many factors. It all depends on how you to divide your network resources for downloading and uploading. You can program your network to prioritize either downloading or uploading traffic according to your business operation.
When it comes to the numerical unit describing bandwidth and speed, we can use bit rate for both. Digital systems process only 1s and 0s. Either one of these two numbers is a bit. So, the value of your data rate will depend on the total number of bits the network can transmit in one second. Normally the internet speed today is in the Mbps range. That means your internet can transmit millions of 1s and 0s every one second.
Gigabit internet is also common today from internet service providers and device makers. That is over a thousand million bits per second in data transmitting speed. To take full advantage of the gigabit internet, you need advanced modems, routers, and cables to actual deliver that speed.
Even if you are not using gigabit internet service now, it is still wise to procure network equipment like routers and switches that support gigabit data throughput. It will future proof your network infrastructure. The reason is that the internet speed will only go up moving forward. Today’s computers and servers have more than enough processing power to handle gigabit data rate. In that sense, it will be a smart decision to invest in quality equipment that supports gigabit now, rather than try to save money on devices that you will need replace when you decide to upgrade your networking.
LAN vs WAN
These are two terms you would hear often when you are trying to buy network equipment. LAN stands for local area network, which means a network that is not publicly accessible, or you can think of it as your internal network. All devices on an LAN network have direct connections to other devices on the same network. These devices can communicate with each other or even more than one device at a time, but devices from outside of the network cannot talk to the devices on this LAN directly, and vice versa.
WAN stands for a wide area network, which means it covers a much more extensive area than a LAN. You can think of WAN as a network of so many LANs connected together, like a city, for example. Once again, devices on the network can communicate with one another, but devices outside of this network do not have direct access to the WAN.
Internet protocol or IP for short, is a unique address for each device on the network, consisting of a unique series of number. It is like an identification number for every network device.
For businesses, they usually do not just use computers on their networks. There are also IP phones, IP surveillance cameras, or even printers. That means these phones and cameras can have their own IP addresses and make them unique on the network. Businesses can use these phones for only internal communications and use the surveillance cameras to build their own in-house security system.
You may have heard of firewalls as a software security used to block computer virus. That is correct. But how does it work exactly in a network? Your network infrastructure cannot simply tell if the data going through your network is a security threat or not. It requires a pre-programmed device or software to decide whether the traffic can go through your network or not.
To pre-program your firewall, you need to create rules for which type of traffic is acceptable at which port. For general security protection, the rules can be the same for all businesses. But, for creating office networks today, it is far more complicated than that.
A typical example is that many companies want to block certain websites like YouTube, so that their employees do not browse cute cat videos during work hours. But someone else in the same company may need YouTube access for work. Your firewall needs to know who can get access to YouTube and who cannot. Firewall is just a hardware or software you can simply deploy. It requires serious customization for your business.
Switch vs. router vs. hub
Switch, router, hub are the most important building blocks for constructing your business network. I am sure many people would claim they know what these components are, and they can recognize them on a store shelf. Many people can even build a fine network using these components without knowing much the differences among the three.
The truth is that the majority of the people do not know the major functional differences between these three devices. It is no one's fault because they are similar in function, and they even use the same type of ports. Please be aware, these three components or functions in the network are definitely not the same. It is crucial for businesses to know exactly what their functions are, so that you can build a good performing internet for your office.
Switches facilitate your network resources by connecting all types of devices, including computers, IP phones, and printers, in a small business network. Devices on the same switch can send information to each other. The most comment use cases for switches are IP phone calls and sending printing commend from your computer to your printer.
Routers serve as a different purpose. They direct data packets coming from another network to the correct subnets or devices that are on your company's LAN network. Simply put, a router connects every single device of your business to the world. Unlike switches that only connect your devices to each other.
If you have no issues understanding switches and routers, hub should be the easiest. Both switches and routers have some sort of traffic resources managing function, so that you can use your network resources efficiently without issues. A hub, on the other hand, broadcast the same data to all its ports. So, all devices on the same hub receive the same data.
Now you are one of a few people who can tell the difference among switches, routers, hubs. To form a well-performing network, you would need all three of them working together. Please keep it in mind that there are many router products in the market today would have switch or hub functions built in. It can be a complicated process to source the correct devices and how to use them. This will be another topic for another day. Components of data network cabling will teach you more about network components.
Types of internet connections for business
Internet speed has improved so much over the past 10 years. However, the internet connection types have been progressing very slowly. The reason it that to create physical connections for networks requires climbing tall towers and burying very heavy cables underground or even under the ocean. These are very challenging and time-consuming tasks. So, instead of digging up and burying giant cables every few years, internet services operators have been working very hard to improve modem technologies, data distribution, and new encoding and decoding strategies, so that we can use the existing infrastructures more efficiently rather than constantly re-building them. In this section, we will review all the types of internet connections so you can decide on the best option for your business.
DSL stands for digital subscriber line, which is a modem technology that uses existing telephone lines to transport high-bandwidth data other than telephones. This type of connection is still in use for buildings and schools since it is an existing and well-connected network. It can deliver high-bandwidth data rate without notable change to the existing infrastructure. It is still one of the most popular ways to provide broadband internet access.
To use the DSL network more efficiently, we also have symmetric DSL (SDSL) and Asymmetric DSL (ADSL). SDSL splits the upstream and downstream resources evenly, which provides equal speeds for both uploading and downloading data transfer. For businesses that are doing a significant amount of uploading, SDSL is certainly more applicable. ADSL gives much more resources to downstream data transfers, which results in a much faster download speed. This is usually applicable to average households, who require more bandwidth to consume content.
The benefits of using DSL are that there is already wiring in major cities and major areas. There is a small amount of work from wiring standpoint. Phone service providers do not need to invest too much money in transiting to internet service providers. DSL still provides decent speed for small businesses and average households.
On the other hand, the shortcomings of DSL are fairly obvious. For newly developed areas or fast great regions, there are no existing networks to deploy DSL. Compared to fiber, coaxial cable and even some wireless solutions, DSL is a slower option for advanced businesses. If you are planning to add IP phones and IP cameras, you will need additional wiring regardless of the connection type. If you are running an advanced tech business or want to build a future proof network, there will be much better options.
Coax cable has a cylindrical shape in which the center has a copper inner conductor. Outside of the inner connector is a thick layer of dielectric insulator. Outside of the insulator is a thin layer of metallic shield, which is then covered by a plastic jacket. This is the cable that delivers internet access to individual homes or businesses. You will need to connect your modem to this coax cable port to cover the traffic through the internet to a format that your devices like computers and phone can understand.
Once you have the internet access within your office, you will need a different type of connection, so that you can deliver the Internet to all your office computers and equipment. Normally, there are two different types of cables: category 5 and category 6, or CAT5 cables and CAT6 cables, respectively.
You do not really need to know the exact wiring difference between CAT5 cables and CAT6 cables. The most significant difference between the two is their data rate support. CAT5 can only transmit data at up to 10/100 Mbps at a 100MHz. CAT6 cables can handle up to 10 Gbps of data, which is much faster than CAT5. To learn more about CAT 5 and CAT 6 cabling, please read What are CAT-5 and CAT-6 network cables used for?.
On the other hand, CAT 6 cable can reduce crosstalk, which is an electrical signal interference among cables when you have so many cables bundled together. For business settings, it is inevitable to have messy internet cables to support all types of devices and security system. Therefore, even if speed is not your top concern, it is still beneficial to choose CAT 6 cables from overall performance and future proofing standpoints.
Copper is one of the more popular materials when it comes to transmitting data due the cost and speed. However, there is a major flaw when it comes to copper. It has significant loss of signal strength over long distances. Fiber technology solves that problem once for all. It makes use of the refraction effect of light. So instead of using an electric signal to transmit data, we can use light instead. Fiber can easily offer more than double the speed of copper with much less signal strength loss.
Since fiber is a newer technology, it requires internet service providers to build new infrastructures, which usually is a slow process. Plus, manufacturing superior quality fiber cables is difficult and expensive. Therefore, the overall fiber adoption has been slow. The good news is that we already have a fair amount of fiber networks available in Canada, and the ones we have in the market are performing well. Usually, the gigabit internet comes through fiber technology.
Fiber cable has become a popular choice for Ethernet networking and a strong competitor to conventional copper cables due to its fast data transmission speed over long distances. If you want to build a faster network, or if you want to upgrade your network with fiber cables, you should pay more attention to fiber cabling.
As mentioned before, if we are not using electrical signal during data transmission, there would not be any interference or crosstalk among cables. Fiber cables are much thinner and lighter. It is so much easier from a cable management standpoint.
Fiber cables have two modes: multi-mode and single mode. Multi-mode fiber or MMF has multiple pulses of lights; single mode fiber, or SMF has a single pulse of light. MMF cables are usually thicker to compensate for more pulses of light. Since MMF can carry multiple light sources, so they are faster than SMF. The most common use case for MMF is transmitting a high volume of data over a short distance. Therefore, if your business requires high speed and the distance between devices is not greater than 1 km, you most likely need MMF cables.
SMF cables can operate over a much longer distance. It can deliver signal up to 10 Gbps over 30 km distance. So, university networks, cable TV and telecommunications networks usually use SMF cables. If you want to know more about network cables, you can check out The Different types of network Cables.
Wireless (Wi-Fi, 4G/5G, Satellite)
Wireless internet access offers much more flexibility. If you are tired of dealing with all the wires in your office, wireless is the option for you. All you need is to connect a few wireless routers and access points to your modem, then you will have wireless internet for your office, which will bring so much convenience to your day-to-day operations.
If you are considering using a wireless solution, you should know that the most popular and the most advanced Wi-Fi standard is Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E. This standard provide much faster transmission speed and it can easily carry much more traffic through your network. As mentioned earlier, it is a wise choice to build a network that can support gigabit data rate even you are not using gigabit internet yet. When you are buying routers and access points for your business, you need to make sure that they support Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E.
If you want to go beyond the typical wireless solution, or your business does not allow to you have common cable access, like a cruise ship, for example, you will need to explore using cellular signal or even satellite signal for your office. In those use cases, you will get a customer premises equipment (CPE), which converts cellular or satellite signals to Wi-Fi signal. In that case, there is no need for modems. That is how you can still use Wi-Fi when you are on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean. Just be mindful, this type of use cases usually has lower speed due to air wave resource limitation and other technical limitations.
Wireless Network vs. Wired Network
Since we just talked about the types of internet connections for business, we need to dive a little deeper to see all the advantages and disadvantages of both wired and wireless networks. Understanding them will not only help you to build a reliable and scalable network, but it will also help you build a better operating business.
Pros and Cons for Wired Internet for Business
Wired connection has been around since the beginning of the internet. As mentioned in the previous section, we already have a solid infrastructure to cover the majority of the population. So, most internet access is still heavily rely on wired networks due to its solid infrastructure. When you have wired access in your office, you do not need to worry about air wave interference or walls blocking your signal. Wired network can provide more stable connections across all your devices.
From a speed standpoint, the wired network does not have bandwidth cap like a wireless network. So, you can use all the bandwidth resources without interference. Therefore, you would have much faster speed from wired networks. Just to put things in perspective, wired internet offers about 5 gigabits per second, while wireless connections would only offer 1 gigabit per second.
Assume if you have a large office, there is no chance you can provide wireless access with wireless solution alone. You will either have to choose all wired connections or use wireless access points with wired repeaters in between.
When it comes to network security, hackers cannot access your network without physical access to one of your network ports. That means an intruder needs to enter your office and physically connect a device to one of your networks. Therefore, if you choose a wired system for your network, it is crucial that you also build a solid wired surveillance system to monitor your office 24/7. Only then, you can achieve absolute security of your businesses.
If you have a wireless access, then hackers would have a chance to access your network remotely. Hackers could steal your information by getting your wireless access credentials or hijacking your air signal. Although, this does not mean that wireless networks are worse on a security standpoint. Nowadays, there are a good variety of software in the market today to help business to monitor their network for unauthorized access and/or encrypt their data. Nevertheless, securing a wireless network will have more complications than a wired networks.
There are also a few downsides to using wired networks. It has much lower mobility for today’s workers. Plus, you will have to spend a lot of time managing all the cables and ports in your office. It can be daunting, but with expert help, it will not be as difficult to create an organized and fast wired network setup for your office.
Pros and Cons for Wireless Internet for Business
The biggest issue that a wireless solution solves, or the biggest advantage of a wireless solution, is its mobility. Within a certain range, you can freely move your devices. Better yet, you do not need to worry about all the wiring or ports for your devices. If your business happens to have so many walk-in customers, a wireless access solution does not have as many limitations to the number of connected users. At least when compared to wired networks, a wireless network has a much higher typical use capacity.
Also, from a mobility standpoint, a wireless solution is not perfect in this regard. As mentioned before. Wireless signal does not easily pass through walls, ceilings, or elevator doors. Moreover, wireless signal strength decreases significantly with respect to distance. On top of that, other radio signals may also have interference. Therefore, while you are not tied to a cable, your overall mobility with a wireless solution is still limited.
From a speed standpoint, a wireless solution still offers an adequate speed. Unless your business operation has an exceedingly high demand for connection speed and stability, wireless solution is fast enough for most businesses.
As mentioned earlier, wireless solution does require more security work. If you have wireless setup in your office, it is a wise idea to adopt a good software to secure your data and monitor authorized accesses. We also recommend that you change your network access credential every 6 months, or immediately change it after you detect unauthorized access. To secure your network and your property, we recommend you build an in-house security system with IP cameras and data servers.
In reality, the majority of business today use both wired solutions and wireless solutions for their networks. A mixed network takes advantages of all the pros of the two options and compensates all the cons. That is how you can build a reliable and scalable network. The question we hope to help you to answer is not which option is better. We want to help businesses to find the best fitting combination of the two options based on their own network requirements.
The most crucial factor we want to emphasize here is security. People spend so much attention chasing speed these days, and they always forget about security. Regardless of what type of network you use or how you combine your wired and wireless networks, data security and your property security should always be a major concern.
We strongly recommend that when you procure network equipment such as routers and switches, please always keep security function in mind. It is a good idea to update your network access credentials frequently, no matter how secure you think your network is. More importantly, construct an independent surveillance system on your premises. With a security system, you will be able to catch any intruders or any internal sabotage.
Key features for scalable networks
There are a few factors you need to consider when you are trying to build a scalable network. You need to be aware that your business will grow and change over time, and your network needs to accommodate new hires, new equipment, innovative technologies and new services constantly. You also need to build redundancy in the network as your backup in case something goes wrong.
Continuously adding new hardware is the least efficient way to build a scalable network. You do not want to expand your network constantly when you are not even using the existing network to its fullest. Plus, it will make your server room crowded with cables. It is a common occurrence among businesses that someone trips on those wires and disrupts business operations. This section will discuss some notable features you can implement on your routers and switches to improve your network efficiency. We will also provide you with the easiest route to upgrade your network.
Subnet through VLAN
We talked about LAN earlier. VLAN stands for virtual local area network, which means we can build a local network through software or virtually. This creates so much more flexibility for your network. For example, different departments like HR, Finance, sales can have their own dedicated subnet LAN for their own internal communications. Each subnet does not interfere others. All of this could be virtually through software control. It does not require different departments to build their own networks or servers. So, creating proper virtual subnets can provide enormous scalability.
Quality of Service
Quality of Service, or QoS for short, is another excellent feature when you want to use the existing network more efficiently. You can set priority levels for one VLAN over another, depending on the applications. For example, you can set voice over IP (VoIP) applications to have higher priority than data transmission. So, when someone makes a phone call on your network, everything should be real time without any latency or interruption. But, if someone else just wants to load a webpage at the same time as the phone call, the webpage can wait for half a second. No one will notice a second of data transmission interruption, but everyone can notice when there is a one second interruption during a phone call.
QoS is one of the features you must consider for your business. You want to optimize your network usage before you expand your network capacity. Like VLAN, this feature is achievable through routers and switches, and you can customize these features through software programming.
Hierarchy means you need to design your network in a tiered fashion, which will allow you to scale up your hardware capacity, build redundancy, and ensure the network always operates at optimal speed. Typically, there are 3 tiers for network architecture, which are core, distribution, and access layers.
Fundamentally, core tier processes all the data going in or out of your entire network. Meanwhile, distribution tier will manage all the resources and distribute data through assigned resources to designated devices. Lastly, access layer only manages devices accessing the network. This architecture hierarchy guides data to the correct device through the shortest path. For scaling, you only need to expand access layers first. If your access layer is maxed, then you move up in the hierarchy to the distribution tier. When that tier is at its capacity, you move on to expanding your core at last. Normally, the core tier and distribution tier always have extra capacity or redundancy. Therefore, in most cases, you only need to scale on the access layer, which is the easiest. To learn more about setting up a scalable network, check out our How to set up a scalable data network? .
Are you expanding your business and your internal network? Whether you are in manufacturing or in an office setting, we have the right network solution and the best security solution for you. Call Panopticon Solutions at 416-613-8828 to book your consultation appointment.