Technology for Your Home Office

norman_fongWe haven’t had a guest blog post for a while. Norman Fong, Chief and Co-Founder of BuyVia, an online and iOS App smart shopping service, offers his thoughts on the top technology for your home.

If you’d like to submit a guest blog post have a look at the guidelines and get in touch. The most successful posts are relevant, personal posts that aren’t trying to sell something! 😉

*********

It’s Monday morning and your alarm clock goes off at the crack of dawn. After rolling out of bed, you put on your fuzzy slippers and make a pot of coffee. What happens next is almost every office worker’s dream. You make the trek across your living room to your desk, “wake up” your computer and start working. Just another typical day at “the office”!

Thanks to recent developments in technology, more and more entrepreneurs are finding that they can make this dream a reality. Sure there are drawbacks, but with the right equipment, software and services, working from home can be a snap.

Of course, it helps if you have a good space to work, some nice office furniture and a little peace and quiet. After that, it’s all about your technology. So what do you need to get started?

Every business is different, but here are a few ideas to consider.

Bandwidth: One of the most critical tools in your home office tool chest is internet bandwidth. If you are lucky, you might already have fiber optic connectivity in your neighborhood. If not, be sure to explore all of the internet service options in your area and select the one that is the fastest and most reliable. Cable service typically offers more bandwidth than DSL. If you are going to splurge anywhere on your home office, this is probably the place to do it.

Personal Computers & Devices: I know…it almost sounds passé to talk about personal computers in this new age of smart phones and tablets. However, for most businesses, the reality is that you still need a decent PC in your home office. You will probably need Microsoft Office as well. Fortunately, both desktop and laptop PCs continue to improve and there are a lot of cool new features available:

  • Solid state drives have dropped in price. These are convenient because they enable you to boot up your computer more quickly.
  • Touch screens are finally hitting the mainstream, particularly with the introduction of Windows 8. If you’re using Windows 8, get a touch screen!
  • Go wireless. Wires are fast disappearing from the office landscape. Keyboards, mice, printers, routers, monitors, drives, speakers, etc. are all fair game for the wireless revolution. Some small devices can now even be charged wirelessly.
  • Monitors keep getting bigger, thinner and cheaper. If it will aid your workflow, consider using two or three. Start with a 24-inch LCD screen and add more as needed. A wide selection of monitor arms and stands are available to accommodate just about any monitor and configuration.
  • Webcams to facilitate video conferencing are a must. OK…so sometimes you still need to look presentable at home!
  • Multifunction printers for scanning, faxing and printing are getting better all the time. They are faster, more reliable and have more features. Color laser printers have come down in price and might now be an option for some small businesses.
  • If you have large data storage requirements, Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices are a good option for a home office network. They offer a lot of flexibility if you need to access data from multiple devices or provide backup capacity.
Home office

Home office by Lasse Rintakumpu on Flickr

The Cloud: Rapid advancements in cloud computing technology are revolutionizing how we work from home. If you can host your business software or website in the cloud, there is little need for large servers or storage devices in your home office. All you need is a computer and an internet connection.

Even if you maintain these systems locally, you can still take advantage of some of the other cloud services that are available. They will reduce the technology burden at home and also provide some mobility if you choose to migrate to …say…the local café!

  • Cloud services like Dropbox, eFax, GoToMeeting and QuickBooks are essential to running a small business from home.
  • You will also want to utilize a bank that offers easy and comprehensive online banking.
  • If you take credit card payments, sign up for a service like Square to mobilize your transactions.

Phone Service: Most individuals already have a land line and cell phone at home. However, many business owners opt for a VOIP plan (Voice Over Internet Protocol) for their primary business phone service. It’s generally inexpensive, segregated from your other phone services and can easily interface with e-mail and other devices.

Along with your standard internet connection, you may want to get a good cell phone data plan with either a tethering or a mobile hotspot feature. In the event of an internet service disruption in your home, you can use your phone as a backup to access the internet from your computer. Naturally, this can provide you with mobile internet access in other locations as well.

If the cell phone connection in your home is inadequate, you may be able to purchase a cell signal booster for your office. Check with your service provider for availability.

Working from home can provide needed flexibility on a budget. Having the right technology to support your business will substantially increase your chances for success. Just be sure to take a break and get out of the house once in a while!

Norman Fong is The Chief and Co-Founder of BuyVia, an online and iOS App smart shopping service that uncovers great deals on popular products. BuyVia makes it easy for consumers to get price alerts from both online and local retailers for best cheap laptops and other electronics products.

Guide to Mobile Broadband Providers

Separating the wheat from the chaff is not easy when it comes to mobile broadband tariffs. There is so much on offer and much depends on where you are located. Quite often the best place to start is by picking a provider you feel happy with.

Joe Linford of Broadband Genie has written a guest blog post introducing the main providers out there. You can email Joe (joe.linford@genieventures.co.uk) or follow him and the Broadband Genie team on Twitter.

**********************

Whatever your mobile broadband needs, it pays to be clued up about the best deals and know which providers offer what, so that you can make an informed decision on which deals to choose.

There are five main mobile broadband providers in the UK, and all of them offer a range of deals, so there’s lots of choice. As a guide, a good benchmark is that mobile broadband will cost approximately £15 per month for a 12 or 18 month contract which allows you to download up to 3GB of data per month. Beyond that, you just need to look out for larger download limits, shorter contracts, or freebie extras – whatever makes it work for you.

Packages and offers change frequently, so before you make a decision it’s well worth visiting a mobile broadband comparison site for all the most up to date information, as well as various ways to compare prices.

3 Mobile

3 Mobile has been offering mobile broadband since August 2007, and has been working hard to get itself to the forefront of the mobile broadband market, including becoming the first provider to launch one of the hugely popular ‘free’ laptop deals. It is also one of two UK operators to have a network capable of 7.2Mb speeds.

3 currently lists nearly twenty mobile broadband options, which vary from very lightweight deals such as one with a 1GB download limit for £7.50 per month (18 month contract), right up to a the £35 per month 5GB 24 month contract, which includes an ultra-portable Samsung netbook. Plus, if you’re already a 3 customer, you’re currently being offered 25 per cent off an 18 month mobile broadband package.

O2

O2 started life as BT Cellnet – one of the UKs first mobile networks. It began offering mobile broadband in April 2008, with a focus on customer service which means that while its prices are higher than some, hopefully the service you get matches up. O2 is also the only provider to offer a 30 day ‘happiness guarantee’; so that if your service doesn’t meet expectations, you can return everything within 30 days for a full refund.

As with 3, O2 offers around 20 different mobile broadband packages, starting from £15 per month, over an 18 month contract for 3GB of data per month – which also gets you unlimited Wi-Fi access at over 5,000 public hotspots. The company also has laptop deals starting at £25 per month for 3GB, and pay as you go options which are frequently discounted.

Orange

Orange belongs to French telecoms giant France Telecom, and its UK mobile operation is in the very early stages of merging with T-Mobile to create the largest mobile broadband provider in the UK.

It currently has the cheapest package on the market at just £5, although that’s only available to existing Orange customers (0.5GB per month, 18 months). In terms of offers, Orange tends to favour the introductory low price, so for example its 3GB, 18 month contract is £7.50 for the first three months, going up to £15 after that. Or if it’s a laptop you want Orange currently has Compaq and Asus models from £25 – £40 per month.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile is a subsidiary of German telecoms company Deutsche Telekom, and will form the other half of the Orange merger if the whole deal goes ahead. It’s got a reputation as an unexciting but reliable network, offering mobile broadband from late 2006, and becoming the first operator to launch pay as you go deals in 2007. Its network is capable of speeds of up to 4.5Mb but the company has hinted that it expects to achieve 14.4Mb in the near future.

Its range of mobile broadband deals is a little more limited than some: it has two contracts on offer (3GB 18-month or 5GB 24 month); four laptop deals (Samsung, Dell and Advent machines at £25 -£30 per month) and four pay-as-you-go options.

Vodafone

Vodafone is the only UK mobile broadband provider to be British-owned. Not only did it help pioneer mobile broadband, it also has one of the fastest networks, capable of 7.2Mb

Vodafone has a good range of mobile broadband contracts, including a competitively priced 5GB per month deal at £18. Laptops are Samsungs and Dells from around £21 per month; and top-ups on Vodafone’s pay-as-you-go deal don’t expire – unlike top-ups with all other providers.