Many articles about ecommerce address customer-facing issues, such as website design, search engine optimization, content, marketing, and order fulfillment. One often-ignored topic is the basic hardware required —the internal network and the broadband Internet connection — to operate an ecommerce business. Without the Internet and your business’s connection to it, it would be difficult to run an ecommerce shop.
U.S. Internet vs. U.K.
The infrastructure in the U.S. is different from here in the U.K. In the U.K., the only real choice for a businesses broadband connection is via a phone line. For many of us, this means a 7 megabytes-per-second (or less) connection speed.
This is why the U.K. government has spent so much money rolling out improvements to fast Internet access. The aim is to provide fiber-optic Internet to points near most homes and businesses. This will provide speeds of 38 to 76 MBS. This is still far short of some U.S. areas. But it’s a vast improvement, nevertheless.
I am one of the lucky ones who can now get a 76 MBS connection. I have upgraded from my previous snail-pace connection of 7 MBS. Now that I have a fast Internet connection, I’ve discovered that my internal network is an issue. When the fastest download speed was 7 MBS, I did not notice the weaknesses in my network. After I upgraded to my new connection and still only received 7 MBS speeds on my computer, I realized I had a problem.
I do not have a dedicated, wired Ethernet network. Instead I rely on Wi-Fi. I installed the Wi-Fi router next to the main phone point — not in the back office where I needed the Internet most, I now realize. I discovered that Wi-Fi, despite claims of fast speeds, really slows down when you put any distance and an office wall or two between the router and the computers.
I know I can buy expensive Wi-Fi routers that run faster, and on higher bands. But office walls slow things down, as does older equipment. So rather than invest thousands on upgrading all my equipment, I went looking for a cheaper solution.
Internal networking options
The best option is hard-wiring a network with Ethernet cables. To do this properly requires a good computer technician to design the network, cut cables to the correct lengths, and terminate them properly with the plugs. This can get expensive, and potentially difficult to lay wires throughout the office. Moreover, wires are untidy. But it remains the best solution, and the investment is well worth it in the long term.
The next best solution is Ethernet over the main electrical outlets. This is where you have a special adaptor that plugs into an electrical socket next to your router and another next to your computer. The adaptor converts the Ethernet signal to run in the electrical wiring so both adaptors can talk to each other. Indeed with one adaptor at the router, you can have several receiving adaptors throughout your property, all talking to that one. (This solution is heavily dependent on your electrical wiring, and sometimes just will not work.)
Depending on your electrical wiring, you can achieve speeds of up to 500 MBS locally. For me it meant that I retained my download speed of 76 MBS. The downside is that all the network traffic is going through one bottleneck, namely the adaptor next to the router and one single Ethernet port in the router. This is why a proper Ethernet network is better, even with a cheap router that only has 100 MBS ports.
Wi-Fi still necessary?
It is likely that even with the hard-wired solution, you still need Wi-Fi. This is certainly the case for portable devices and also for some computers that may be close to the router. This is where I made my second Wi-Fi discovery: It matters where your router is positioned.
I moved my router one foot up and one foot along. This doubled the connection speed to most of my portable devices. Basically I moved it away from the corner, and up on a higher shelf. Wi-Fi routers do not like being in cupboards and do not like being close to brick walls. Try moving your router around, maybe even add a booster aerial or two. This can make all the difference.
If all this fails, then you have just two options remaining: Move the router closer to where you need it, or use Wi-Fi repeaters. Both have drawbacks.
Moving the router is best done by moving the entry point of the Internet in your property. In the U.K., with a phone line, this is an expensive and near impossible task. The entry point belongs to BT (formerly, British Telecom). BT does not dispatch its engineers cheaply. Even then, it can be difficult to persuade the engineers to move a master socket.
The next best method is to use a long cable from the router to the socket. The quality of this cable is paramount. Cheap telephone wire will cripple the speed within feet. Even so, going much longer than 10 yards will also degrade the speed, since the broadband signal is vulnerable to radio frequency interference. In short, it is likely that you are stuck with the router near the ridiculous access point installed long before broadband existed.
Wi-Fi repeaters are a poor solution. You have to place the repeater close enough to the router so it still gets a decent signal, but far enough away so the repeater’s signal does not interfere with the router. Finding this sweet spot can be time consuming, and the speed benefits can be small.