Small business jumps on broadband bandwagon

More needs to be done by ISPs to ensure they develop broadband products which are appealing to Australia’s small business community, an industry representative claims.

Speaking at the launch of Pacific Internet’s inaugural Barometer Business Broadband Report in Sydney on Tuesday, managing director Dennis Muscat said ISPs should be delivering broadband solutions which give small businesses the practical applications and bundled services they want.

“Small businesses have rudimentary needs with regards to applications they use with broadband,” Muscat said.

“[The survey] suggests products become appealing by making businesses using the Internet more robust.”

The new quarterly survey, which was conducted by ACNielsen Consult, used responses from 1167 Australian small businesses with fewer than 50 employees to analyse the number of Internet-enabled businesses that use broadband technologies in their business environment. Broadband was defined as services with an access speed of 256Kbps or greater.

From the responses, ACNielsen Consult concluded that around 41 per cent of Australia’s small businesses, approximately 206,000, were connected to the Internet via a broadband technology. Recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics quoted in the report state there are now 655,000 small businesses in Australia, representing 96 per cent of the total number of businesses operating locally.

While the most recent Australian Competition Consumer Commission (ACCC) report recorded only 75,000 Australian businesses with a broadband connection, Muscat said such figures do not take into account businesses which use residential broadband products and plans to run their business. For instance, in Pacific Internet’s case, the ISP only reports those businesses signed up to its business-specific products, he said.

“More research needs to be done into businesses which have home products over bigger, symmetrical business offerings,” he said.

As an indication that small businesses were in fact adopting residential broadband solutions to hook up online, Muscat pointed out that 15 per cent of survey respondents had chosen cable technologies for their Internet connection.

Not surprisingly, however, DSL technologies (including ADSL) proved to be the most popular broadband solution, with 25 per cent of the respondents stating they used DSL for online access.

As well as looking into the type of broadband technology used, the survey asked businesses about their intentions to implement various Internet applications, such as firewalls, network security, Voice over IP (VoIP), LAN and wireless LAN use within the office, and video-conferencing.

The majority of those businesses surveyed pointed to basic security technologies such as firewalls, network security and spam filters as the most highly-valued applications for their business.

In contrast, only a small proportion expressed an interest in more advanced applications and technologies. For example, 50 per cent said they did not intend to use VoIP, and 56 per cent reported no plans for video-conferencing.

Although the report revealed positive growth in broadband take-up from the small business sector, Muscat said the survey also made apparent the increasing digital divide between metro and non-metro businesses. While only 59 per cent of businesses in metro areas continued to use dial-up, 81 per cent in non-metro areas were found still to be using the narrowband technology to access the Internet.

“The metro versus rural divide needs to be addressed, as it is a serious issue,” he said.

Businesses from non-metro areas represented around 25 per cent of those surveyed, ACNielsen analyst Andrew Tolputt said.

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