If you’re a small business owner you might have heard about the UK Government’s Gigabit Voucher Scheme. It’s all about improving internet connectivity for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) but what exactly is the scheme and how does it work? Our step-by-step guide explains it all.
What is the gigabit broadband voucher scheme?
The Gigabit broadband voucher scheme, run by the UK Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, operates across the entire UK and is open until 31st March 2021. The scheme offers grants to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to help fund the cost of installing high-speed, superfast internet connections.
The idea is to allow SMEs access to the fastest broadband speeds in the country, with speeds of around one gigabit per second (1 Gb). To do this, internet service providers install full fibre internet lines to businesses who have successfully applied to the grant scheme. This kind of ultrafast broadband connection is known as a gigabit connection.
What is a gigabit connection?
The standard way to connect to the internet is via telephone wires. Your broadband supplier may have sold you a fibre broadband service but this almost always means that the cables are fibre only as far as the telephone cabinet in the street. This is known in the industry as FTTC (fibre to the cabinet). From the telephone cabinet to your premises, the connection travels via copper wires. The further away your building is from the telephone cabinet, the slower your internet connection speed.
With standard internet connections, there is a big difference between download speeds and upload speeds:download speed is always faster than upload speed. Typical download speeds with standard fibre internet access are between 10 Mbps and 35 Mbps (megabits per second). Upload speeds are usually much slower, at around 1 Mbps to 5 Mbps.
In a nutshell, download speed has to do with data you receive from the internet (e.g. opening an email, reading a webpage, watching a YouTube video, On the other hand, upload speed relates to data you send to the internet (e.g. posting photos and videos). A perfect example of when you really need fast download speeds and fast upload speeds is on a video conference. For more detailed information, read our guide to upload and download speeds.
With a full fibre connection the distance from the phone cabinet no longer matters. The connection is FTTP (fibre to the premises) instead of FTTC so you get the benefit of fibre optic technology all the way to your building. Download speed and upload are the same, instead of standard internet asymmetrical connection speeds. A gigabit connection, available via the Gigabit Voucher Scheme, means that you will get the benefit of speeds of around 1 Gbps - considerably faster than standard FTTC.
How will my business benefit from faster internet?
In business, productivity and technology have a very close relationship, i.e. one depends on the other. You probably don’t notice high-quality IT solutions when they’re working well but as soon as something goes wrong, you and your staff know all about it. Upgrading your business broadband internet connection means you can work faster and have more people online without any negative impact.
Connecting with clients, partners or collaborators via video conferences will be a lot smoother - you’ll see a big difference when you have faster broadband. Your clients will also be impressed when they can access ultrafast broadband when they visit.
Staff who work remotely will be able to connect more easily - the benefits are endless. Staff morale can be affected by internet speeds. People get frustrated by a slow connection, and when people are frustrated their productivity slows right down.
When you have a fast, reliable internet connection, it’s one less thing for you to worry about. By giving yourself a high-tech boost right now you will safeguard the future of your broadband internet connectivity. With a full fibre connection you can say goodbye to complaints about slow internet speeds and get on with growing your business.
The application process
The scheme is supplier-led, which means it’s the internet service providers (ISPs) who apply for the voucher on your behalf. You don’t need to contact the scheme organisers yourself. Your first step is to contact one of the internet suppliers taking part in the scheme to express your interest in getting a dedicated internet access line installed. Then the process goes ahead as outlined below:
1. Who is eligible?
Any small or medium-sized business with up to 250 employees is eligible to apply for a gigabit voucher. You must be able to demonstrate that your internet connection speed would be at least doubled by the new gigabit-capable connection. For example, if your current download speed is typically around 15 Mbps, then a full fibre connection capable of 1 Gbps (equivalent to 100 Mbps) would give you more than double that speed. Click below to test your broadband speed right now:
See below for more information about how local residents can apply to the Gigabit Voucher Scheme by forming project groups with local businesses.
2. How much is the grant?
Between £500 and £2500 per business. You can form a group with other eligible businesses so that all the vouchers are added together to make a bigger total voucher value. In group projects, you can also include a maximum of ten local residents. A resident’s voucher is worth £500.
For example, two businesses are awarded the maximum £2500 each. That’s a total of £5000. If each business has ten residential vouchers associated with it, the total value of the vouchers will be £15,000.
If you have previously thought about upgrading your internet access but have been put off by prohibitively high installation prices, this grant could make an enormous difference. With minimal outlay, your business could take a giant leap forward.
3. How long does it take?
It depends how quickly your chosen supplier can undertake the work and get your fibre connection installed. Once the supplier submits a claim to the government’s voucher scheme, the government will then contact you for confirmation. You will have to respond within 28 days in order for the installation to proceed. If a supplier does not complete the installation within 12 months of the voucher being offered, the voucher will be cancelled.
4. Which suppliers are taking part?
An enormous number of internet service providers are involved in the scheme. Many of the big-name, well-established broadband providers have signed up, including BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk, as well as some up-and-coming telecoms companies, such as Hyperoptic broadband.
See here for a full list of suppliers taking part in the Gigabit voucher scheme.
I’m not a business owner - how can I get a Gigabit voucher?
Vouchers are available for local residents who join a group with businesses in the area. Each residential voucher is worth £500. Contact suppliers in your area to find out if there are already any group projects local to you. If there are no existing groups, ask in your local business community if anyone is interested in forming a group. Once people know about this opportunity, they’re sure to want to get involved!
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