Broadband solutions are widely available and are maturing fast. However, a lack of coverage and downtime still plagues business users. Technologies that support the trend toward convergence and simplification of access – where users need not concern themselves with the 'how' of service – deliver part of the solution.
Pierre Holtzhausen, networking specialist at Drive Control Corporation (DCC), explains: "Coverage is increasing as services providers expand their networks but using a single broadband solution (eg, ADSL, iBurst or 3G) is still not a reliable option if your business or employees require always-on Internet connectivity and mobility. Geographical coverage of any one of these services is far from comprehensive.
"In addition, users must factor in network failure due to overloading of infrastructure and faults. Greater awareness of available technologies – more particularly dual WAN routers – may provide companies with some respite."
Dual WAN routers enable switchover from one service to another – for instance, from ADSL to 3G – seamlessly. They have been available for some time but in South Africa adoption of this technology has been slow.
Holtzhausen notes: "A part of the problem has been the relative immaturity of the different broadband offerings, the disparity in pricing and throughput speeds, and the complexity around enabling switchover from one service to another, especially where more than one service provider is involved. While some of these variables must still be taken into account, the router technologies have advanced considerably to provide load balancing, failover and automated switchover. All the user has to do is open the relevant ADSL, 3G and iBurst accounts."
At present, companies are trying different methods to improve throughput and uptime. For example, businesses often have two ADSL accounts, one dealing with Web traffic and applications and another with email. This prevents spam from crippling their networks. When one ADSL account reaches its monthly assigned capacity, they switch to the other. Despite gaining some advantage this still leaves them completely reliant on the ADSL connection, however.
"Users need to weight the business impact of downtime to assess the cost effectiveness of having an alternative connectivity option," Holtzhausen says.
There are also the issues of mobility, security and speed to contend with. Depending on where they are, mobile users may need to use ADSL or iBurst or even WiFi connectivity at a hotspot. While ADSL provides faster throughput, there are ways to boost throughput on other broadband services. For example, having two iBurst accounts and modems will double throughput using this technology.
Security remains an issue, however. The dual WAN routers' VPN capabilities ensure that whatever broadband service is used, communications are encrypted.
At between R1400 and R2200, these routers are approximately one and a half times more expensive than standard routers. The price depends on the configuration of the router.
Holtzhausen points out: "Users can select between different router models with different capabilities. Some enable the user to switch only between 3G and ADSL, while others have two PPPOE capable ports that will switch from any to any other service. Some routers only provide failover or load balancing while others provide both. There are also choices to be made between dual WAN routers that support PPTP or SSL VPNS."
He believes that dual WAN routers will replace standard offerings in the next few years.
"As convergence increases and more broadband products become available, they will become more easily interchangeable," he notes. "Already what happens behind the LAN is becoming invisible to users as the devices we use become more user friendly and complexity is taken care of by technology – it's just a matter of being aware of what is available and leveraging it."