Setting up your small business network

If you’re setting up a storefront or other place of business, you’ll also want to get set up for networking and to buy computers. The best things to get will obviously depend on what kind of operation you’ll want to run. An IT services company or a video studio that may need to send and receive raw video footage will have a different setup to a cafe or restaurant. We’ll be exploring a few options but in general for the purposes of this article let’s assume that you’re setting up a restaurant, cafe or other trade that doesn’t have IT as its main focus and that you just need tools that will get the job done. We’ll also assume that you’re set up in Australia so we’re going to focus on Australian providers the most, although this advice is broadly applicable to everyone.

Getting set up for internet

Australian internet has been notoriously spotty; a large proportion of the wiring being used for internet is fairly old and is degrading fast, where the NBN is being installed, it’s not always as reliable as it could be.

The single biggest problems that you might face is that whichever provider you go with, they’re likely to either fail to correctly set up your account and then make it difficult for you to correct this, or you can be stuck in a site with bad wiring that they will then fail to fix. My experience in general has been that bad wiring is going to be your single biggest issue, this is not as bad with NBN, but has affected a disturbingly large proportion of people I know with fixed internet, including some business customers. The single biggest problem is that if you’re affected, it’s almost impossible to get the company to acknowledge the issue and come out to fix your wires.

Our Suggestions - Optus Home Wireless

You can see their 4G plans here. I’ve had a lot of success with Optus Home Wireless as an internet source and have recommended them to several people all of whom are currently satisfied. The new plans are 500GB per month, which allows 32GB of data per day, and even the lowest speed is enough to stream high definition video, but not 4K. If you’re in a major city the speed goes from 6Mb to 24Mb, which will be enough for 4K video.

The main benefit of this plan is reliability, as you’re dependent on the same cell network as is used by mobile phones and emergency services. If you’ve lost internet, then it’s likely that everyone in your area is also getting spotty mobile phone connectivity and in the worst case may be unable to contact emergency services. Optus will absolutely fix their mobile phone towers as a priority and the towers are self monitoring. That means that your internet will almost never goes down, and if it does, it will be fixed very quickly without you having to do anything, this is a major asset for any business. Their modems also function as Wifi routers which can easily support several dozen computers so the included modem in your plan will also serve for your office/storefront network.

If you need unlimited internet, for example if you are a video production company and have to be able to transfer large files then you will want either an NBN plan or to use Optus’ 5G plans, if they are available in your area. The plan is detailed here. It’s the same as 4G but faster and unlimited, as more people switch to it it’s likely you’ll be hard pressed to get 50Mbit continually, but the reliability should remain the same.

One major downside with these plans is that as you’re effectively a mobile phone, you won’t have a static IP address. For most businesses this won’t matter, but if you’re running your own servers or an office VPN then that means that you’ll need a business NBN plan. According to Optus, static IPs are available to any business plan that uses a non-cable wired connection, although you’ll need to contact them here to reserve one. The 50Mbit plan is unlimited and has a 4G backup connection in areas where 4G internet is available. In my experience I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the Home Wireless plan directly and I’ve never seen someone with NBN actually use the backup so in my experience it’s mostly a theoretical, but please write in if it’s worked well for you.

Also, I feel I should mention that there’s not actually any evidence that 5G is in any way dangerous beyond random conspiracy theories on Facebook. Now we could talk about how the radiation is non-penetrating and not practically different from WiFi, but it’s more illustrative to show this 1889 graphic about the incredible dangers of this new… “electricity”.

I want to offer free WiFi

If you want to offer complementary WiFi then you absolutely need to get an unlimited plan, or else your internet will be drained dry in short order. This opens up a large set of problems to you, as you’re going to have at least one joker who buys a single espresso then sits in the corner and does any of..

  • Scanning the network for connected devices and then automatically trying hacks against them in case they’ve not been patched.
  • Sets up a massive list of queued downloads from their piracy source of choice and then activates them all at once while they sit and read a book.
  • Hacking a third party through your network so you appear as the source, though they’ll probably get the password then get set up in their car for this one.

Ideally if you’re planning on providing free internet, you should make absolutely certain that the “free” network and the network you use to actually run the business are completely separate and you should probably make sure to block every port except 80 and 443. Those are the ones used for webpages, just block absolutely everything else.

Above is a public information image about the dangers of electricity from the late 1800s. It's worth keeping this image in mind when people complain about 5G.

My office / cafe is too big and the signal doesn’t reach

You could run a cable from the router, but the neatest solution is probably a mesh router cabled to your main internet router. I’d suggest something like the “Nest Wifi”, their product page is here, although you’ll probably want to buy one from Umart or OfficeWorks if you’re in Australia. Reviews for it are excellent and while it’s not as fast as some of the other mesh competitors it’s exceptionally easy to set up.

You’ll want to buy the box of three devices, you’ll need power and the internet cable from your Home Wireless router’s Ethernet port to the “in” port of the mesh router, then the other two devices need to be hooked up to power and paired to the main device. At that point you’ll have one network coming from your main router that extends through the secondary devices, and mesh devices can run through each other, so you can chain a line of them together if you need to. If you connect to that network from your computers and phones, it will stay connected automatically as you move between devices.

I hope this will help avoid some issues for people setting up their first office network, or the networks in their home. The basic plan with Optus Home Wireless is $65 per month and will give fast and reliable internet plus a fairly good modem, the rest of the suggestions mostly refer to edge cases and additional plans that you can use for specific situations.