How to Choose an Internet Service Provider for Your Business
With so many internet service providers (ISPs) touting a wide variety of offerings, choosing the best internet for your business can be challenging. To make the best decision, our five-step approach to ISP selection will quickly get you up to speed on business broadband connectivity.
1. Shared vs Dedicated Networks
Before diving into your business internet options, make sure you’re looking at plans geared specifically toward small businesses or enterprises and not residential internet. Once you’re on the right track, you’ll then need to consider which type of network you need: shared or dedicated.
Also known as a “best effort” service, a shared network basically shares the same features as residential internet except it’s labeled as business internet. You share the bandwidth with other users within the area of your internet provider. The most common types of shared networks use DSL, cable, shared fiber, wireless, and satellite connections. While this is the most cost-effective choice, especially for small businesses, it doesn’t provide the best speeds. You might also encounter common shared network performance issues such as latency.
On the other hand, businesses that use VoIP, video conferencing, and powerful cloud services will need higher caliber internet, or “guaranteed performance” service. Since connectivity is guaranteed to consistently meet stated metrics via a service level agreement (SLA), a more robust network backed by a more responsive team is necessary. As a result, fees are higher. Business-grade, commercial-grade, and enterprise-level internet may also be used to describe guaranteed performance services. The most popular connection types are fiber-optic, copper, and fixed wireless, but don’t confuse true fiber-optic 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.
2. Speeds You Need
Even for the most savvy IT manager, choosing the correct bandwidth for a business can be challenging. Chances are you’ll buy too much or not enough. Nearly everyone does. 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 because internet providers try to “mainstream” the tech. Consumer-based services like cable and DSL internet 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’re really buying is a gigabit of bandwidth. The higher the bandwidth, the more data you can transmit simultaneously.
Email, internet search, and voice, for instance, don’t 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 on top of 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, helping you avoid overpayment for excessive unused bandwidth, or slowing business operations by maxing out your connection. (If you’re 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. Reliable Customer Support
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.
Anyone who has been tasked with finding an ISP soon realizes that not all services are available to everyone. A large part of 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. Trustworthy Reputation
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 points you’ll want to consider.
Internet Service Quality
Specs should be your first stop. Read the specs for the specific service that you’re considering and obtain three quotes with specs. Comparing these side-by-side helps you determine the advantages and disadvantages of each. If you’re using robust cloud services like VoIP, ask your VoIP provider for recommended specs.
The key specs are uptime, latency and packet loss. This is where an SLA is especially helpful. The SLA details the provider’s service guarantees and the solutions that will be compensated if the service doesn’t perform as promised in the form of service credits for impaired performance and contract termination option for outages.
If business internet is mission critical, then consider a back-up connection. All internet providers have some outages. For true redundancy and 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 carrier’s service, so it’s important to make sure your backup connection isn’t 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 and a wired or fiber connection is best.
A quick look through third party reviews, customer comments, and case studies can be very telling. 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. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, dive into the details and approach with caution.