The Pros and Cons of Sharing an Office Internet Connection
In modern working environments we all need to be able to access the Internet. Whether you are moving offices and considering your options and best route ahead, or already in an established office, the option of sharing an existing connection is worth considering. Many buildings you might move into can already have provision of Internet services with a fast fibre or similar connection so the question is should you connect to a Shared Internet Connection?
We've compiled some of our thoughts for and against shared internet connections, gained from experience helping clients over the years. Whether you are in London or Shanghai this should apply equally to you. Do remember that your connection will always be shared with the other 3 Billion Internet users on the planet down the line!
Pros (Potential Pros):
- Connection may be already in place so quick to connect to.
- Possible zero install charge and delay.
- Could be a much faster and more reliable connection than you could justify on your own.
- Can be very economic compared to paying for a whole connection yourself.
- If you have your own firewall then the security will be as good as if you had your own dedicated line.
Cons (Potential Cons):
- Might already be over-contended (slow service as too many users using the connection already).
- Might not be a reliable service (i.e. don't make assumptions - some shared connections are terrible).
- Might not be economical (we've seen some building shared services that are 1000 times more expensive per Mbps than having your own dedicated line - a shared line does not always mean saved cost).
- You will beholden to someone else's contract - i.e. could the line be ceased if the master line owner moves out?
- If there is a fault, it can take longer to resolve if you can't access tech support directly.
- You may not be allowed to run your own servers if you are not given Public Static IP Addresses (if this an issue for you).
Facts to gather:
- What type of connection is available or proposed? For a full description of possible connection types see our page on Internet Connectivity Options.
- What will it cost; both to connect and ongoing monthly?
- What speed is the connection?
- Are there any limits?
- If you can, do a speed test on a real world computer there e.g. at www.speedtest.net or another reputable speed test site. This will show you what you could expect if you too were connected (note it might be a good idea to run the test at a couple of different times in the day).
- Where will you connect - i.e. from an Internet Switch / Router?
- Who is responsible for the connection?
- What is historic reliability like? This is a good guide to the future though no guarantee.
- What happens if the connection goes down & what are the SLAs / who do you contact?
Some Examples of Good and Not-So-good internet connections (from experience):
TBWNet: Obviously we might be a tad biased, but we'd hold up Onega's network at Trinity Buoy Wharf as a good example of a shared Internet Connection. We run a gigabit network which is shared with fellow tenants on a 'good neighbour' basis. The connection covers its costs and everyone gets a very fast and reliable service. For the same or sometimes less than the cost of connecting to a typical business grade ADSL line, tenants can connect at 100Mbs or full Gigabit, and benefit from full speed whenever needed. A couple of larger tenants onsite (like AEG who own The O2 and Thames Clippers) prefer to have their own lines as cost is no issue for them, but everyone else connects to the shared Gigabit TBWNET network, which also powers the site Public (free) WiFi that covers our open spaces.
How well does this work & are there many issues? Generally everything works very well. Each organisation (company / charity / artist / studio / arts organisation) gets their own IP Address allocation so it is clear if there are any issues what is happening. From time to time we do get reports from IP owners (Intellectual Property in this case rather than Internet Protocol) of film downloads with peer-to-peer torrents etc. (beware this is all traceable!) so sometimes we have to put our Internet Police hats on, but thankfully this is rare and everyone gets along very well 99.9% of the time. Typically the culprit of any dodgy downloads might be a visitor on WiFi, so education all round is the key.
Sharing Internet in a Shared Office Environment (Private Office / Sub-let situation):
If you are looking for office or other work space, you might find the perfect size of building for you. However you might find that your perfect amount of space is part of someone else's office space where they are looking to sub-let spare space. Equally you might find that your perfect space and location is a bit larger than you need now, but that you can let out the excess space in the meantime. In either circumstance, having a shared Internet connection can make sense, assuming both parties are happy to be 'good neighbours', which is normally the case but best reinforced with a simple agreement, which we'll discuss later on this page.
For the tenant, if you can share the prime lease holder's connection then it can save time and cost on line connection, especially as Fibre Internet lines can take up to 2 to 4 months to connect (most providers quote 40 to 90 working days). As subletting may not have the same multi-year tenancy as the prime lease holder, the additional flexibility can be useful here.
For the larger lease holder, who is subletting the space, the benefits are: the availability of the Internet connection makes the space more attractive; the cost sharing is economically helpful and, in most cases, the sub-tenant's internet usage will not touch the sides of your bandwidth capacity (this can be checked technically before things move ahead to ensure it will be the case). The key is to 'measure twice and cut once'; to ask the right questions and ensure this would be a win-win for both organisations. With the correct planning and implementation there is a 98%+ chance of happy co-sharing of an Internet connection.
We've seen cases where it has not worked, or not worked well, which can be because of a poor connection in the first place, or an imbalance in demands on the connection. We do appreciate that sometimes situations mean there is just no choice in the matter and you need to make the most of what you have & get on with things in the short term.
Sharing Internet in a Shared Office Environment (Managed Workspace / Co-Working Space / Serviced Office):
There are now many Serviced Office / Managed Office providers like Regus / Instant Offices / We-work etc. in the UK, Europe and the World who offer flexible managed office space. This convenience comes at a premium of course and this is where providers make their money. Landlords have a range of attitudes on how they offer Internet and communication services in their buildings; from an open door policy to multiple providers which can work very well for tenants, through to a very controlled environment where you have no option to bring your own line, and must rent vital Internet capacity at a very healthy (for the landlord) rate. Competition in headline rates often means that base rents might look attractive, but then Internet on a captive market makes up for the relatively low rent. Thus it might not be uncommon for a Central London (City / West End / Green Park etc.) office location to charge £100 per Mbps per month. For the same money on TBWNet you'd get a connection up to 1000 times as fast (how's that for value?).
There is negotiation to be done though - ideally before you sign and commit to a term and tenancy; after which you may be very much 'caught by your proverbials'. Increasingly, there are also now options after you move in, which can include 4G and Wi-Max connectivity which is becoming ever quicker and if you are in a good signal spot (we can help asses this) then can be very reliable also. In an ideal world you can also bring your own VOIP phones in with you, and take them away with you when you leave. Solutions like Horizon Cloud Hosted VOIP can save much cost and hassle over time.
Thankfully the tide appears to be turning on the 'mean brigade' and people are starting to ask more about Internet costs before they move in. Most business class hotels now give you good Wi-Fi for free as part of their package. What would you think if you went into a good hotel and had to put 50p coins in the meter for air-conditioning to run for example? The Internet is going the same way & being seen as a utility as essential as electricity to the conduct of modern business. Hopefully the near future will bring good connectivity at low cost, or inclusive in the rent of most managed offices. Once the first big provider makes the move, everyone else will follow like dominoes.
Sharing Internet in Traditional Leasehold Office Buildings
The most common commercial tennancy in the UK at least is one where a company leases an office space for a period, and is responsible for the furnishing and utilities in that space. Many bulidings are multi-storey and may have one tennant per floor, or an occupier might have multiple floors in a building. Equally out of London and the other big cities, in industrial parks companies might have units and neighbours - rarely is anyone company 'an island'. In these circumstances you might have one or two Internet connections (main and backup typically once you are over say ten to fifteen staff), but your neighbours will likely also have Internet connections already. Thus it is possible to either connect to neighbours Internet to provide mutual backup in these circumstances. The beauty of this mutual arrangement is that there is very little downside but a lot of economic and technical upside. Neighbours (for example on the floor above or below your office if you are in an office block) will already have connection, so for the cost of running a cable or two between floors and approx one day of labour; each company can provide ongoing Internet backup for the other at almost zero ongoing cost, so win win for all.
So if this is a win-win: why don't people share Internet connections with neightbours more? This is something we ask ourselves often. The most common reasons come down to perception of risk, which is largely due to mis-understanding. The neighbour Internet sharing scenario is very safe if you execute the procedure correctly, and there are some simple golden rules to follow to allow for education and then an extremely positive experience for all. We think this is such a useful excercise that we've dedicated a page just to the process of setting up a neighbours mutual Internet backup configuration.
Building Backbone Internet Connections - Landlord Approved Independent ISP
In the circumstances of a fair sized multi tennancy building, which could be dedicated floor, co-working space or dedicated work rooms / pods, it can work to the advantage of all if there is a good Internet connection available across the whole building. This might be a seperate line to individual connections everyone already has or a primary connection that everyone can take and augment themselves for further backup if required. Economics of fibre Internet connections are such that the bearer (fibre) is a large proportion of the cost, so having more people connecting to a quick connection is increasingly economic for all, and allows everyone to share a much larger connection. For roughly the same cost as a few tennants getting their own 100Mbps lines, you might be able to all connect to a shared gigabit or even increasingly economic 10Gbps lines. We are very much of the belief that 10 Gigabits is the new 1 Gbit connection and if you connect to the Internet at 10Gbps, you are truely 'cloud ready' with no barriers to what you can do online and on The Cloud - but equally be mindful that Not All Cloud Is Equal :-) .
What about if you are the landlord and a tenant asks if they can share your Internet?
The answer here is really the corollary of the above. Done right it can work wonderfully well and everyone is happy. It is a matter of common sense and good management to make sure all the pieces of the jigsaw are in place.
Are the tenants nice people? Are they media intensive (TV / Film production has heavy bandwidth requirements for example) Are they good Netizens? i.e. will they be good and legal.
The Sharing Agreement
An agreement to share Internet connections should cover the following core terms:
- Sharing Costs
- Sharing Connection
- Speed and Service
- Notice Period
- Fair Legal use Agreement (good neighbour clauses).
We can help to put a simple agreement together between parties that covers the key points with standard terms and mutual protections to make and maintain things clear and amicable from the start and ongoing. Please do get in touch if we you need any assistance in the process.
Concluding thoughts on Office Internet connection Sharing:
Can you have the best of both worlds? Ie it might be a good solution to get started in the short term while you wait for your own connection, then a mutual backup.
Is there appetite for a shared building connection? Ie could everyone in the whole building share an awesome connection (1Gbps or 10Gbps )?
This document might have given you some ideas on which is the best option for you. If it feels like you have too many options or if in any doubt - feel free to get in touch. Remember our belief that there are 'no daft questions in IT'!
Many Thanks to ryancr for the banner image of the two hamsters sharing nicely.