How To Choose An Internet Service Provider For Your Business
With so many Internet Service Providers (ISP) touting such a wide variety of service offerings, choosing the best internet for your business can be challenging. To make the best decision, our 5 step approach to ISP selection will quickly get you up to speed on business broadband connectivity.
1. Choose the ISP That Offers the Caliber of Service That Meets Your Business Needs
Internet providers offer several tiers of services at varying price points to meet the needs of diverse customers. Consider the vast Internet needs of enterprise verses small business. Because customer requirements are as different as those of a bicyclist and a trucker, industry insiders categorize Internet services into two classes: “Best Effort” and “Guaranteed Performance.”
The most affordable broadband internet service falls under the Best Effort classification. Residential and small business services, such as cable internet and DSL are the most popular. Cellular, LTE, and most satellite Internet providers also deliver Best Effort services. Because Best Effort internet can support exponentially more customers and are less costly to build and maintain than Guaranteed Performance networks, providers pass on the operational savings in the form of lower prices. For these broadband services, providers most often use the term “up to” such as “up to 200 Mbps” to describe their offering.
This is important because the carrier is telling you that bandwidth will not be consistent: You may reach these top levels periodically, on certain days at certain times.
The actual data throughput for Best Effort internet services will depend on many factors, such as the number of customers being served and the amount of data being transmitted at that moment. Because these Internet services are very affordable, they can be especially appealing to small businesses, and should be utilized when appropriate. If your business uses primarily basic internet connectivity, such as surfing and emailing, then bandwidth fluctuations may not be impactful or even noticeable. Note that these services typically offer no uptime guarantees either (the amount of time Internet is available to your business.)
In contrast, businesses that use VoIP, video conferencing, and powerful cloud services demand higher caliber internet. Since connectivity is guaranteed to consistently meet stated metrics via a Service Level Agreement (more on this later), a more robust network backed by a more responsive team is necessitated. Hence, fees are higher. Business-grade, commercial grade and enterprise level Internet may also be used to describe Guaranteed Performance services. Fiber optics, T1s and fixed wireless are the most popular. But do not confuse true fiber optic circuits with hybrid services where a fiber backbone links to cable or phone lines for the last mile connectivity to your office. If it’s a commercial-grade fiber service, fiber will be utilized all the way to your office. After all, the chain, or in this case, the Internet connection is only as strong as the weakest link.
2. Know How Much Speed You Need
Even for the most savvy IT manager, choosing the correct bandwidth for a business can be challenging. Chances are you will buy too much or not enough. Nearly everyone does. And even if you choose correctly today, your business needs may change in six months. Additionally, you may need to double the bandwidth for a Best Effort service as compared to a Guaranteed Service, to hedge against times when data throughput slows.
The Speed Claim Game
One of the most confusing areas is speed. This is has been brought about by Internet providers trying to “mainstream” the tech. Consumer based services like cable Internet and DSL typically talk about the capacity of data traffic in terms of speed, such as “fastest Internet speed in your area.” The reality is data packets travel at the same speed. So when you hear an ISP offer gigabit speed, for instance, what you are really purchasing is a gigabit of bandwidth. The higher the bandwidth the more data you can transmit simultaneously.
Email, internet search and voice, for instance, do not require a lot of bandwidth. The bandwidth hogs are video (be it video conferencing, video surveillance, or employees streaming sports and news), large file transfers, robust cloud services and streaming music. While the number of employees is somewhat indicative of bandwidth, the real key factor is the type of applications being used and the amount of data being transferred.
Most small businesses that require business grade services (e.g. using VoIP and some cloud applications in addition to email) should feel comfortable starting with a 10 – 25 Mbps connection. But start collaborating online, streaming or web hosting and you could easily push the demand to 100-150 Mbps or even a Gigabit. In the last few years, we’ve seen bandwidth utilization exponentially increase due to the growth in cloud applications.
Oftentimes, your provider can guide you in your bandwidth decision by temporarily increasing the bandwidth and monitoring the usage. The monitoring reports will show average usage as well as peak usage times. Thus helping you to avoid overpayment for excessive unused bandwidth, or slowing business operations by maxing out your connection. (If you are overusing the connection, packet prioritization enabled on QoS services allow you to somewhat mitigate the congestion by giving important traffic like VoIP priority, so call quality is maintained.)
3. Choose the ISP That Provides the Level of Customer Support You Desire
Selecting an ISP that provides usage reports and allows you to scale your bandwidth as your needs grow is just one of the many areas of customer support that can minimize stress and help keep business operations running smoothly.
When selecting an ISP, consider your expectations for support. If broadband Internet is mission critical, then you’ll want direct access, 24/7 to tech support. Mainstream customer service may be great for many things, but downtime or severely impacted services requires fast attention from knowledgeable support teams with technical expertise in business apps.
4. Choose a Provider That Delivers Internet Service to Your Location?
Anyone who has been tasked with finding an ISP soon realizes that not all services are available to all. In large part this is due to the high costs that providers must incur to build and maintain their networks, especially in the case of wired networks, like fiber. While fiber networks were once thought of as the only solution for those seeking high-speed Internet connections, fixed wireless and satellite services have stepped-up to meet the demand.
To give you the edge in finding available Internet service providers in your area, search ISPs by zip code.
5. Choose an ISP That You Trust
With a decision as important as Internet service, a little legwork before you sign a contract with your provider is well worth the peace of mind. There are several data points you’ll want to consider.
Internet Service Quality
Specs should be your first stop. Read the specs for the specific service that you are considering. I recommend you obtain three quotes with specs. Comparing these side-by-side helps you ascertain the advantages and disadvantages of each. If you are using robust cloud services like VoIP, be sure you ask your VoIP provider for recommended specs.
The key specs are uptime, latency and packet loss. This is where a Service Level Agreement (SLA) is especially helpful. The SLA details the provider’s service guarantees and the remedies that will be afforded if the service does not perform as promised – service credits for impaired performance and contract termination option for outages.
If Internet is mission critical, then consider a back-up connection. All Internet providers have some outages. For true redundancy, to ensure business continuity, choose a provider that augments your primary connection with path and network diversity. It’s common for ISPs to resell another carriers service. So it’s important to make sure your back-up connection is not delivered via the same network as your primary connection. In addition, it’s typical for all fiber carriers to be delivered in the same conduit, which means if one carrier’s fiber gets cut or damaged, all carriers in the conduit will be impacted. For maximum safety, a fixed wireless connection in addition to a wired/fiber connection is best.
A quick look through third party reviews, customer comments and case studies can be enlightening. Remember that all products and services have both good and bad reviews. Look for trends, both positive and negative.
A Final Note
With purpose and data at your fingertips, you’re well on your way to choosing an Internet provider that will best meet the needs of your business. And always remember, if it seems to good to be true, dive into the details and approach with caution.