Networking a Small Business Office

It takes quite a bit of networking to get a new office up and running. To be clear, we’re not talking about making the rounds at a tradeshow, polishing your elevator pitch, or bulking up your LinkedIn connections (though these are certainly all worthwhile activities).

Rather, we mean actual networking, the kind that lets your office’s technology devices communicate with each other and with the world.  At mister Wireless, this is our specialty.

Making the Internet Connection

A solid Internet connection is the cornerstone of any small business office, and depending on your location you may have several options from which to choose. For most small offices, the local cable or phone company ISP (Internet Service Provider) is a good place to start, because they generally offers speedy cable modem, Ethernet or Fiber connections at affordable prices.

Owning your own Router provides more features than typically provided by the ISP

Cable modems and T1's always provide a speedier connection than DSL, and rejoice if you’re in one of the handful of geographic areas where you can get a Fiber gateway such as Google Fiber or AT&T's new GigaPower.   

Be sure to specify a business-class rather than a consumer level account—the former costs a bit more, but typically offers better reliability and customer support.

It always pays to get the fastest Internet connection your budget allows, but that’s particularly true if you plan on hosting your company data in the cloud (i.e. distant online storage) rather than a local server.

Buy Your Own Router/Firewall

ISP's frequently provide their own access hardware that combines the functions of a modem, router, firewall, switch, and Wi-Fi access point into a single device. Although they can be suitable for basic needs in small offices, replacing it with your own device provides you with a lot more features and flexibility like offering add-on modules that can do things such as filter Web content, block spam and viruses, and prevent sensitive data from leaving your organization.

Data Cabling and Switches

Before you occupy an office space, it’s crucial to evaluate its Ethernet data cabling. Although Wi-Fi is an excellent supplement to Ethernet, it’s seldom an adequate substitute.  If there’s any existing cabling in place, make sure its at least Cat 5e or Cat 6 and not the older CAT 3 type; the wire jacket, which is accessible where the cable emerges from the wall, will indicate the cabling type.

CAT 3 is still ubiquitous due to its use with phones, but it’s not suitable for modern Ethernet devices. Use of 100 Mbps Ethernet devices requires CAT 5 cable, while 1000 Mbps (a.k.a. Gigabit) devices require at least CAT 5e or Cat 6.

Speaking of Gigabit, since virtually all modern desktops, notebooks, and servers support it and the cost of Gigabit Ethernet switches (the devices that provide additional ports to expand your network) is not much higher than for 100 Mbps Ethernet switches, in most cases it will make sense to go with Gigabit.

Another feature to strongly consider when selecting switches is PoE (Power over Ethernet), which eliminates the need for certain devices, such as IP Phones,  video cameras, and Wi-Fi access points, to obtain power from an AC wall outlet.  Whether you wire your office space from scratch or just add to existing cabling, it’s a good idea to run at least two cables to each location.  Running multiple cables from point A to point B costs only nominally more than running one cable; and it’s good to have the extra ports handy for future expansion.

Wi-Fi Networks

It’s always good to have Wi-Fi, so that workers can roam within the office with notebooks or tablets. (Not to mention smartphones—configuring them to use the office Wi-Fi network can help reduce the use of pricey cellular data.) To guard against eavesdropping, just be sure to use WPA2 security with a long, strong passphrase.

If your office is relatively small, the Wi-Fi access point built into your router/firewall should give you adequate coverage. If not you may have to add extra Wi-Fi access points.

Network Printers

The Paperless Office has still not come to pass for most small businesses, nor is it likely to in the near future. Thus, a network-connected printer (or multifunction unit with scan, copy, and possibly fax capabilities) is a necessity for almost any office. Almost all printers, even low-end sub $100 models come with built-in Wi-Fi, but it’s worth it to go upmarket a bit to find models that also include Ethernet connectivity (Ethernet is easier to set up and generally offers a more reliable connection.).

When shopping for a multi-function printer, look for one that can scan documents directly to a shared folder or a to an email address; this can save you the trouble of having to install the printer’s software on all of your computers. And if you expect to need to print from smartphones or tablets, choose a printer that supports Apple’s AirPrint, Google’s Cloud Print, or a vendor-specific mobile printing technology such as HP’s ePrint or Epson Connect.

Small Business Phone System

It wasn’t long ago when installing a phone system in an office was a complicated and expensive proposition involving multiple analog phone lines and requiring a significant up-front investment for PBX equipment. Fortunately, thanks to VoIP (Voice over IP) based phones, that’s no longer true.

Many ISP's now offer Internet-based office phone systems that provide a full range of advanced business-class features (e.g. auto-attendant, company directory, voicemail to email, etc.) without the need for an on-site PBX and that can be paid for monthly without any large initial outlay—though some ISP's may require a multi-year contract.

Even better, these phone systems are generally easily manageable via a Web browser, so routine administration chores (adding/removing extensions and other configuration changes) cost little time and no money.

Another option is to go with an independent phone system provider, such as RingCentral (which we sell) provides completely cloud-based service.

Call for a Free Site Survey

Call our office at (502) 208-2831 or submit an online request for a free site survey for your project.