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Intermittent internet failure is a sporadic but significant problem for small businesses needing to immediately process card payments and access files, and some service providers are jumping on the opportunity to fill these glitches with backup connectivity.

Using its own CloudAccess software and overlay technology, startup Ethica Channel Enablement Inc. works with internet service providers (ISPs), which in turn are expected to sell this as part of service bundles for restaurants and retailers. The software quickly identifies when a company loses its internet connection, and automatically redirects it to a second one that has already been set up for moments when the primary connection is lost. All of this happens so quickly that the connection appears seamless to the business operator, the company claims.

“We create a monitor on all of the lines. We know in a hundred milliseconds if there’s an issue on that line. In the world of networking, milliseconds matter,” said Cameron Couch, chief commercial officer and founder of Toronto-based Ethica.

The aim is not only to prevent revenue loss during internet outages, but also damage to the company’s reputation, he said.

“We’ve said let’s create a VPN [virtual private network], an overlay, made up of three connections. As businesses rely on the internet for point-of-sale or inventory or entertainment, as they get more dependent on that, by diversifying the supply of the internet, they get a more reliable experience.”

The average internet connection ranges from 98.7 per cent to 99.1 per cent availability, Mr. Couch said.

“It sounds awesome, but 98.7 per cent in an actual week, is like an hour-and-a-half. We smooth all that out. Our technology allows you to not have all those outages,” he said.

Although it’s the ISP that sets the service’s price, Mr. Couch said a small business could get two internet connections and the CloudAccess software for less than $100 a month.

“It makes it far more financially palatable for small businesses because the service provider already has a network,” Mr. Couch said.

Ethica is running its service as a pilot project with a “handful” of ISPs, Mr. Couch said, and aims to launch the product in late-February to ensure it will be available for restaurants’ patio season. A small business itself, Ethica is directing its service to small businesses such as restaurants and retailers.

“We’re in the process of putting in around 100 locations,” he said.

It is not only startups offering backup internet services, however. Shaw Communications Inc., a major primary ISP, launched LTE Backup in Western Canada in January. The company calls it an “add-on solution” that enables systems to stay online if the primary internet connection is disrupted.

If point-of-sale terminals and cloud applications experience outages “the financial and reputational impacts could be crippling,” Shaw said in a news release.

Shaw’s LTE Backup means that a business’s essential systems and applications will automatically switch to the LTE network in the event of a wireline internet outage, without any action by the business.

The internet connection will then automatically revert to the primary network when the connection is restored, the company said.

This add-on service starts at $25 a month, Shaw said.

Internet backups are important for any company that experiences regular downtime, but could be of particular interest to businesses in rural areas. Internet providers in Toronto, for example, are plentiful and anyone experiencing regular connectivity problems with one service can easily switch to another more reliable one.

“It’s like a modern-day annoyance. Just one of these many things in our digital world. More and more, lots of people, especially small business owners, rely on backup services for everything,” said Avery Swartz, an independent small business technology consultant and author of See You on The Internet: Building Your Small Business with Digital Marketing.

“Downtime definitely does happen, it’s absolutely a reality. It is more of an issue in rural areas.”

Ms. Swartz said small businesses need to look at the need for internet backup from the perspective of risk-reward, depending on how frequently connectivity is lost. Additionally, as more small businesses move toward storing information on the cloud infrastructure, seamless internet connectivity has become more essential.