Choosing an Internet Service Provider

Choosing the right Internet Service Provider (ISP) is a critical step for any small business, but a daunting task when faced with a great deal of technical information. Get it wrong and your business will suffer. Here’s how to get it right.

No pressure, right? Fear not! If you follow a process of needs assessment, research and scrutiny of service packages you will have the comfort of knowing you have made a careful, informed decision.

Assessment

Understanding your company’s internet requirements will help you choose a plan that will provide the infrastructure and support your business needs. When considering the following questions, bear in mind your company’s growth plans.

  • Level of internet access required
  • How many employees will share the internet connection?
  • Is internet access required as part of daily work? Will the business have a steady flow of internet usage or will it spike at predictable times of the day/year?
  • Will the connection be used mainly for email or also for extensive web searches and web activity? Skype uses a lot more data than sending an email, and even Google Maps uses more data than you think.
  • Do you need your employees to be active in social networks or instant messaging?
  • How many emails are received and sent on a daily basis? Do your employees or online users need to transfer large files, or share large amounts of information, graphics or videos?


Online presence

  • Do you have a visually rich website with heavy user traffic and regular website updates?
  • Does your website contain forms and generate the submission of information or inquiries?
  • Does your business handle online transactions and payments?

Applications

  • Does/would your business utilise real-time applications such as video conferencing, VoIP or other content delivery systems?

Ok, so now you have an idea about what you need, or at least you’ll be able to answer some key questions from ISPs so they can put together quotes for your business.

Speed and Connection
If the choice is between dial-up or broadband, broadband usually wins out these days. Is basic broadband (or ADSL) fine, or do you need ADLS2+, which is much faster but costs more? ADSL2+ becomes more important if you’re sharing the internet connection – as most businesses will be – between a number of employees, and usually is well worth it.

Does your business require internet access on the go? Wireless vs. unwired is a topic that deserves its own article, but suffice it to say accessing the internet via a mobile device is cool, and just as fast as wired, but is the most expensive internet connection per gigabyte. It offers a mobile edge that certainly has applications for some businesses.

What if you want internet access but don’t want to pay for a landline? Some ISPs offer ‘naked’ DSL. This means you don’t need a voice connection in order to have a data connection. If your office has gone mobile this could be the plan for you.

Are you covered?
Where your office is located is referred to as your ‘exchange’. It will determine things like speed, downtime and what services are available. ADSL2+ and VoIP are not offered in every exchange by every ISP.
If you do need mobile internet access, find out about the ISP’s coverage areas and compare against where you need your employees to go. Most have the major cities covered but may not provide coverage in rural areas.

Do your research
Do not choose an ISP based solely on price or you may be disappointed when you cannot get online or get help. Some small ISPs look like they’ll be easy on the budget but in reality they oversubscribe their network, don’t have redundancies in place to keep traffic flowing in the case of network failure, or have outsourced support teams who can be difficult to talk to or slow to respond. Some large, national ISPs are too big and lack in the area of personalised customer service. Time is money and downtime is money lost for your business. Not to sound like Goldilocks, but it often turns out that an ISP somewhere in the middle, with an interesting mix of features, a manageable price and the right range of business services, is just right.
As you wade through the options and speak to ISP sales reps, obtain information about the differentiators that impact service and cost:

  • Customer support
  • Service-level agreements (SLA)
  • Stability of the provider
  • Bandwidth and data
  • Value-added services and solutions
  • Details of the contract

A helping hand
Do not underestimate the availability of good, local, knowledgeable customer support. For a small business owner or decision maker without technical knowledge or in-house IT support, having easy access to the technical support and customer service teams should be a key differentiator in your decision.
For each of the ISPs you are considering, ask about:

  • The level of advice and support they provide to help you set up your connection;
  • Whether or not the monthly charge includes unlimited technical support; (If not, ask for specifics about the limits.)
  • The operating hours of their customer service line; (Do they cover your business hours?)
  • Whether or not the ISP has a proven track record for technical, operational and customer support; and
  • Any and all costs associated with customer support.