How to objectively benchmark business internet service providers

Finding the best business internet service provider

Every small business needs a reliable internet service provider (ISP). Whether you do all your business online, or you use the internet for marketing and communicating with customers, clients and employees, it is expected that you will be connected.

However, with so many options available, it is not easy to identify the best business ISP. These benchmarking methods will help rank ISPs offering packages in your area and determine who stands out from the crowd.

Understanding internet speeds

The most common benchmark provided by ISPs is connection speed. Download speeds - the rate at which data is transferred from the internet to your device - now reach up to one gigabit per second (Gbps), over 30 times faster than the Canadian average.

In most cases, download speed is the only benchmark touted in advertising. While it is tempting to judge one package as being superior to another based on download speed, this alone is not a reliable way of determining the online experience you will get.

Upload speeds - the rate at which data is transferred from your device to the internet - is a benchmark not often touted in advertising, although you will usually find it in the small print. With Cloud computing, many businesses use the internet for uploading just as much as downloading.

More businesses now need to rely on a quality two way connection (of both upload and download speeds) as daily tasks in today’s connected environment require high upload speeds to stay connected. Therefore, upload speed is an important benchmark when it comes to choosing an internet package that can meet the demands  of your daily business tasks such as  running a server, regularly add photos and video to your company’s website, data backup to the cloud, transferring of large files, use of video conferencing and VoIP services (voice over internet)

Advertised download speeds and upload speeds are ‘up to’ speeds - the maximum potential speed of a connection. However, customers rarely achieve these speeds with standard business internet packages due to a variety of factors, including how far away from the local telephone exchange a property is and the quality of the wiring in the property.

The type of connection your internet is supplied by also factors into the quality of your connection. The distance from the exchange, quality of wiring, and whether your connection is shared with other users in your area will affect the consistency of your internet speeds. Your connection is shared if your internet is delivered to a central node in your area by fibre optic cable, coax cable, or copper wire phone line.

If it is a leased line - a dedicated connection between you and the ISP - the speeds you get will not be impacted by your neighbour’s usage because you are not sharing bandwidth capacity, giving you download and upload speeds that are guaranteed not to fluctuate. However, as you might expect, dedicated internet access is much more expensive.

Checking usage allowance and data caps
Usage allowance and data caps are an important benchmark to look at when comparing ISPs. While any such restrictions should be advertised, check the fine print to make sure you understand how they work, as this can differ from ISP to ISP.

If you choose a package with a usage limit or data cap and you go over it, you will either have your connection restricted, limiting how much you can accomplish, or have to pay additional fees to keep using it, even with dedicated internet access.

However, some packages now have unlimited usage, while restrictions or limits rarely apply to dedicated connections.

Evaluating customer service

Thoroughly research the customer service ISPs provide when comparing packages. Problems with your connection will crop up even the best ISP, so it is important to find out what kind of customer service you will receive when the inevitable happens before committing to a package.

Look out for:

  • Guides, tutorials and other online resources
  • Customer service live chat
  • How easy it is to reach a customer service agent by telephone
  • Contact options such as email and social media
  • Technical support hours
  • Downtime procedures
  • Customer service awards

The more options you have for contacting your ISP, and the stronger their reputation for dealing with issues quickly and effectively, the better off you will ultimately be.

Looking at flexibility and scalability

No matter how much research you do, you cannot always predict what your company will need in the future. As such, compare the packages available in terms of how scalable they are and whether the service you receive can be adjusted to meet your business needs down the road. Does the ISP provide various connectivity options that you can transition to or will you end up having to split your needs between various providers.

 Compare bundles

Bundles are an excellent choice when setting up your business’s communications. With a bundle you can get internet, a hosted phone system with hardware, email addresses and more in one package. Which is much more cost effective than purchasing it separately.

Bundling gives you perks you would not get by purchasing these services separately, too. The main ones are that all the services are designed to work seamlessly together, so you should not have any problems with compatibility, and that you only have one customer service team and one technical support team to deal with when issues arise, making them that much easier to sort out.

Use these benchmarks to compare packages and determine which one really suits your company’s needs; carefully evaluate your options, and you will be able to identify the best business ISP serving your area.