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The Top 10 UK Business Broadband SME offers

Comparing Broadband offers for businesses is one of the most time-consuming and complicated things to do; get it wrong and you could be offline for weeks, losing precious revenue.

Unlike, say a laptop, you cannot test your broadband access first as there are a number of independent variables that influence access.

This can make an offer ideal for one business and not for another; plus switching from one broadband to another will not automatically improve performance.

But as you will find out, the best deals are not always the most expensive ones and sometimes, home broadband solutions can sometimes represent a better alternative to office broadband offers.

We have brought together what we consider to be the best 10 Business Broadband SME packages currently on offer in the UK, based on a number of criteria including customer feedback, pricing and availability.

Any offer in this list will be a perfect fit for your company provided that the services are available within your area.

O2 16mbps broadband, starts from £8.52 + VAT

O2's 16mbps broadband offer is a no-brainer if you are an O2 customer; even if you are not an O2 customer, it offers (opens in new tab) stunning value for money if it is available in your area.

O2 bypasses BT's network and instead uses its own ADSL2+ enabled infrastructure to deliver faster than usual speeds.

The Premium deal allows download speeds of up to 16mbps for only £8.52 + VAT if you are an O2 customer, climbing to £12.77 + VAT for non O2 customers.

Until the end of June, there's no connection charge to be paid and O2 does not have any limitations on the amount of data you upload or download.

O2 Premium allows upload speed of 1.3mbps and comes with an O2 Wireless Box which allows multiple computers to connect to the internet access.

Businesses need support and O2 provides with Free UK customer service, 24/7, something that a number of its competitors have yet to deploy.

Other goodies include free McAfee Security applications (which can be deployed on up to 3 computers), 1,200 free web texts, 10 email addresses and a static IP address.

O2 customers will also be able to send email to mobile and save their contacts online.

The broadband contract is only 12 months long and includes a 50 day money back guarantee; on top of that, O2 will check the optimum speed in your area and let you know how fast your O2 will be; this allows you to downgrade to the cheaper 8mbps if needed.

O2 doesn't have separate business or home broadband; they only have one simple broadband offer on their website and the simplicity of their offer contrasts sharply with others.

Bear in mind though that you will need a BT landline in order to use O2's broadband services.

Orange offers some good Office broadband deals even if they carry the "Home" denomination and there is apparently no restriction if you should want to use Orange Home Broadband in your office premises.

The Home Max package (opens in new tab) is particularly enticing as it offers a number of unique features for only £12.77 + VAT per month if you are an Orange customer.

While the broadband speed goes up to only 8mbps, the Home Max package includes the Line rental, which means that you don't have to pay the BT Landline fee of £41.15 + VAT per quarter, that's £13.71 + VAT per month.

The only catch is that Orange does not offer landline installation which means that you will have to be an existing BT customer and transfer the ownership of your landline to Orange.

HomeMax offers unlimited download and upload within fair usage policy limits; Orange also throws in a Livebox Wireless Modem which allows other computers to connect to your broadband line.

Other features include free webspace and email as well as free antivirus and antispam filters but it is the second phone line offer that makes Home Max unique.

That phone line is actually a VoIP line which allows you to call 30 international destinations, including Australia and the US, through the internet and enjoy free calls to Orange mobiles or UK landlines.

The Orange Home Max has an 18 month contract and do include a number of small prints that will need careful reading.

However, this doesn't distract from the fact that the Orange Home Max is a surprisingly good deal especially if you are an Orange customer with a BT landline.

Be Unlimited, starts at £15.31 + VAT

Be is part of the Spanish Telefonica Group since 2006, which happens to own the ex-BT Cellnet, O2.

Be has also pioneered 24mbps broadband internet access in Britain, offering the first £24 for a 24mbps line.

Their best deal is the Be Unlimited which gives you up to 24mbps download speed and 1.3mbps upload speed.

If you need extra upload capacity, Be also offers an paid-for option called Upload Plus which allows you to cut down on your download speed and increase your upload speed up to 2.5mbps.

Another interesting value added service that Be offers is the Be Home Monitor Service - which can be used in an office environment to watch streaming live footage from a wireless heat activated camera.

O2 and Be share the same backbone, which means that they have the same set of attributes; free unlimited usage, a free wireless Be Box modem and a free static IP address.

Like O2, Be offers 24/7 support phone hotline and no contract; you only need to give them 90 days notice before you leave.

There's a £24 connection fee and Be doesn't give any discount or free security software but that's it.

As for the other broadband services, you will need a BT landline to use Be.

Virgin XL package, £28.09 + VAT

Virgin targets exclusively home users, but their broadband offers are surprisingly popular, especially when you consider that they maintain their own fiber optic network across London and that this comes at a cost.

Unlike ADSL, fibre optic broadband is not affected by the distance of the user from the telephone exchange; so in theory, the speed advertised is the speed you get; however, in reality, things are a bit different.

Virgin is the first British mainstream ISP to have trialled and introduced a 50mbps service (although only in Kent (opens in new tab)).

They have already announced that their 4mbps speed offering will be updated to 10mbps and because you bypass BT completely, you do not need to pay for a landline if you don't need it.

Their Extra Large service (opens in new tab) (the 20mbps version) costs a whopping £28.09+VAT per month which is pretty poor when compared with the rest of the sector.

That said, it will provide you with an unlimited download service, antivirus and identity theft protection plus it is the ideal second broadband line as it won't be affected when even if the telephone exchange burns down.

Unfortunately, aftersales support is done via a paid for number but hopefully, you won't need it often.

UKOnline has recently realigned itself exclusively to serve the discerning small and medium UK businesses and has simplified its offerings (opens in new tab).

UKOnline top of the range offer is the Premier package which costs £21.27 + VAT and offers a download speed of up to 16mbps and upload speeds of up to 1mbps.

They are able to offer these high speeds thanks to Easynet Network which was purchased by BSkyB, who also owns UKOnline.

There's no connection fee but you will have to buy a wireless router as you won't get one.

You will be bestowed with a lower contention ratio 20:1 compared to the usual industry standard 50:1.

The contention ratio means that in the worst case scenario, your line capacity is shared with 49 other users which seems frightening but highly unlikely.

UKonline also throws 12 month free McAfee security application and a free domain name for good measure plus 100MB worth of webspace.

The company offers 24x7 UK based freephone support, on par with O2 and Bethere.

Talktalk is Carphone Warehouse's Broadband arm and is the only one offering a free broadband offer outright.

Its best value offer is its most expensive offer, a £24.99 one (including VAT) includes line rental and calls to local and national numbers.

But Carphone Warehouse went a bit further and bundled unlimited calls to international destinations worldwide with the added advantage that you will not have to pay extra if you call mobiles in the US and Canada, great if you do business in those two countries.

Plus you also get 100 free minutes a month inclusive calls to UK mobiles, unlimited calls to other Talktalk customers and free calls to their Tech support.

Talktalk's contract is a lengthy one though at 18 months and you still have to pay £30 as installation fee.

Furthermore, unlike other competitors here, Talktalk's modem is still a wired one and there are no other added incentives (like free applications or online features) to entice new customers.

Note that you will have to transfer your BT line to Talktalk in order to use it.

Small businesses might be interested in AOL Broadband's offer. The internet portion of AOL UK was purchased by Carphone Warehouse and offers under the AOL broadband banner have been bundled with freebies.

One of them is a free HP laptop.

On offer, free unlimited phone calls, free calls to the technical support, a wireless router and up to 8mbps broadband speed plus the laptop for only £21.27 + VAT.

There's a 40GB monthly allowance which should be enough for most users and there's no connection fee.

For an extra £2.50, you can get free international calls as well to more than 30 countries worldwide.

As for the laptop, it is a HP model with an Intel Celeron processor, 1GB RAM, a large 80GB hard disk drive and preloaded with Windows Vista.

This deal would suit small businesses looking to buy one or more laptop together with an internet line or more without having to fork out an expensive outlay.

But watch out for the small prints : the contract is two year long, by far the longest in this list and a BT line is still required.

Pipex was purchased by Tiscali back in July 2007 and has since been promoted as the corporate arm of the Tiscali (although there are overlapping offers). Pipex itself had purchased Homecall, Toucan and the ill-fated Bulldog.

The best deal that Pipex business has on the tabs is Pipex Pro broadband, a £19.50 + VAT package (opens in new tab) that offers speeds up to 16mbps.

Suitable for the typical office needing plenty of bandwidth for their business, Pipex Pro is sold as a "true business grade broadband connection offering prioritized traffic with speeds of up to 16Mb".

If you cannot reach this speed, Pipex will automatically downgrade the line to a more modest 8mbps at a cheaper price.

Benefits include a free WiFi Router (which allows up to 6 devices to connect at any time), 20 email accounts with 100mbps each, a static IP address and a dedicated 24/7 UK based business support team (Calls are charged at normal UK national rates though).

Other added bonus include 100MB webspace, a free Security Suite, unlimited usage and a 20:1 contention rate.

The contract length is only 12 months and there's no connection fee although you will have to keep your BT line.

VoIPfone's offer is different from the other players here since it caters exclusively for businesses which are interested in deploying Voice over IP.

Because they control the connection from your phone to their telephony network, end-to-end, they are able to specify the fastest routes and prioritise your voice traffic above your other internet use so that you get the best possible call quality and line reliability all the time.

Unlike all other providers, you are free to leave VoIPphone at any time; they don’t lock you into long term deals.

So while they are not the fastest around nor the least expensive, their experience in Voice over IP makes stand special for VoIP users.

They have only one package on offer which costs £45 + VAT with a set up fee of £40.

Voipfone Broadband Office Max (opens in new tab) comes with a download speed of up to 8mbps and an upload speed of 832kbps, unusually very high but very much welcomed for VoIP.

There's no limit in usage, plus Voipfone gives you unlimited free support, free static IP address and the possibility to bundle their optional Voice Over IP call packages.

All the broadband packages listed here are wired ones, that is, you will need to be connected to your landline (or at the very least, be within the reception range of your wireless router).

More than 58,000 mobile connections were sold in January 2008 according to market research firm GfK and it comes as no surprise; wireless broadband, just like laptops, are eponymous with freedom.

T-Mobile has one of the most competitive mobile broadband offers on the market; their cheapest package is the Web'n'walk Plus package (opens in new tab) which costs £15 per month for a limited period.

It offers unlimited data transfer with a free USB dongle worth £69.99.

There's a 3gb fair use policy amount which specifically excludes Voice over IP services (although there could be ways to bypass it) and adds to the confusion.

It seems that the Fair usage policy could include throttling to prevent a few users from using up all the bandwidth.

The contract length is 24 month but it is worth it if you work remotely.

And the winner is....

There's no clear choice when it comes to business broadband offers since none of them cover all bases. We are currently using 4 separate broadband lines in the office - the main broadband line, the secondary backup line, the VoIP line and the wireless broadband one.

Prices have dropped slightly but there is now little leeway for service providers to cut prices any further, which is why they are now offering more features like free calls or free laptops to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

That said, there are a few features that ISPs listed here should either modify or discard all together, if that means shaving a few pounds off the monthly costs.

They do not make any profit out of web hosting, email or providing security software and handling emails has been a major source of problems for ISPs in the past.

This is why, it would probably make more sense for them to partner with Google to offer a slew of services including Gmail, Google Talk and more.

Google has a Google Apps Partner Edition (opens in new tab) which is geared towards ISPs and aims specifically at decreasing their operational costs.

Similarly, they could even earn some money by throwing in Google Pack which comes with Norton and offers a £1 commission per download.

Overall the number of Internet service providers has been slashed significantly with a number of acquisitions and others simply closing down; consolidation means that only the biggest companies will survive.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.