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Things to consider when choosing an internet service provider

When it comes to choosing an internet service provider (ISP) for your organisation, there is a lot to think about. From reviews to customer service and security, it can be difficult to know where to start and what will be the most effective solution for you and your team. 

Every organisation needs a certain level of performance from their internet as well as specific features that meet your requirements. Therefore, it is important to understand what you should be looking for, so you know you are making the right choice.

To make things a bit easier, we’ve decided to take a look at the important things to take into consideration when choosing an ISP for your business or school.

Product & service

The first thing you need to think about and look into is whether the ISP can actually fulfil your needs. If you’re looking for an all-encompassing solution covering connectivity, firewalls, content filtering and VoIP then you need to make sure they can deliver the products and services you require. 

Some ISPs won’t offer everything, so you need to bear this in mind. You might be fine with talking to a few different vendors, but it may be more convenient and cost effective if it’s all under one roof.

Reputation

An important element you should explore throughout this process is an ISPs reputation. Ask the ISP for testimonials from current customers, but make sure the recommendation comes directly from the client. If they can’t provide one, then alarm bells should be ringing, it’s never a good sign if there isn’t someone who will sing their praises.

Before you make the switch check out the reviews written by existing customers. If the reviews aren’t very good, it is unlikely you’re going to receive a high level of customer service. Let’s face it there’s no one better placed to comment on this than current customers, just bear in mind people are quick to judge and are more likely to leave a bad review than a good one.

Experience

When it comes to choosing an ISP a key thing to consider is their experience, as this may determine whether they are actually able to deliver what you require. Check whether they are industry specific – do they focus on the business or education market or do they also provide residential connections? If it’s the latter then you need to investigate whether the service you will receive is fit for commercial purposes, and whether you’re going to be paying a premium for the same solution.

Explore the technical expertise within the business, how long they have been trading and what significant impact they’ve had in the industry. Have they done something revolutionary? What makes them stand out from the competition? Are all good questions to ask when having a conversation with a potential ISP.

ISPs network

When choosing an ISP, their network is critical to your success. The last thing you want is to be held back by their ability or lack of. This isn’t something an ISP would necessarily advertise so you need to do your research and ask probing questions. Check what the ISPs reach is and where their PoPs and data centres are located. 

When it comes to directing internet traffic, having access to a robust network of peering and transit partners is key. It improves user experience and reduces latency because traffic moves more freely. The more peers an ISP has the better the level of redundancy because if a route goes down traffic can be re-routed.

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Security of the network

Security is absolutely vital when it comes to the internet, so you need to be sure whomever you choose prioritises protecting their network. Whether it’s something as simple as limiting access to a data centre, server room or PoP right through to network penetration testing and detecting vulnerabilities, you need to have peace of mind that your data is secure. 

Make sure you ask how the network is protected, check the level of resiliency – if the worst happens will you still receive a satisfactory level of service? If the ISP manages its own network then they should know who is on it at all times, which is a key advantage some don’t have. Badly managed services can cause chaos and disruption which can be detrimental to organisations. We all understand downtime just isn’t an option when it comes to a commercial environment.

Contention ratio

Another important thing to keep in mind is the number of other users who will be sharing your bandwidth. Contention ratios aren’t usually advertised by ISPs but it is essential you know this information as it can have a huge impact on the speeds you recieve.

For consumer broadband the figure is believed to be around 50:1. When it comes to commercial internet it’s much lower, starting around 20:1 but can go down to 5:1 depending on connection. It goes without saying if you get a connection that’s 1:1 it is optimal, however this will cost much more and may not be necessary for everyone. 

If you are concerned about your connection fluctuating throughout the day, you need to discuss this with potential ISPs. Each provider will have its own contention ratios that are specific to them, so, if dips in your connection will have a detrimental effect on your operations, it’s worth exploring different options.

Support

The vast majority of us are dependent on having a fast, reliable internet connection at all times. When it comes to businesses and schools, any downtime, dips in speeds or long-term outages can be extremely costly. 

If an issue with your internet connection ever occurs, you’ll need expert support from a team that will be able to deal with your issue, quickly and efficiently. If you experience long wait times and receive insufficient advice, this will not only be extremely frustrating but may also be detrimental to your organisation. 

When you’re assessing whether an ISP is right for you check what kind of support team they have. Will you be speaking to someone in a vast call centre or will you be on a first name basis with a support team with technical knowledge. It may not actually matter to you or it could be quite important – you need to decide but it’s always good information to have.

Finally, make sure you have a service level agreement (SLA) in place with your ISP. This will commit them to fixing any problems within a specified timeframe. If they fail to meet this obligation the SLA should include information about some form of refund, whether partial or full.

Value for money

It would be really easy for us to say cost here instead of value but it wouldn’t be that helpful. We all want cheap deals, however cheap doesn’t always mean good value, in fact it can mean the exact opposite. 

With this in mind, what you should really look out for is whether the deal you have found or the one you’ve been offered, gives you good value for money. 

When evaluating this, consider all the points that we have covered above and assess and compare each ISP against these key areas. Maybe even score the factors to consider in order of importance to you and your organisation. For example is a high level of support vital for your continuity of service or is internet security crucial to your organisation? 

Finally consider the costs associated with each one. We all have to make compromises from time to time, you just need to decide which elements can be sacrificed or negotiated and which ones are essential to you.

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