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How to Find the Perfect Internet Provider for Your Small Business

In digital marketing, we spend (or we should spend) a lot of time thinking about internet speed from the perspective of the consumer. For example, when putting images onto your site, you need to consider how quickly they will load, as this is an important factor in SEO.

And while this is important, you should be just as concerned with the internet service you purchase as a small business, especially since picking the wrong provider can negatively impact your company. Connections that are too slow can hurt productivity, and paying too much can drive up operating expenses and cut into your profit margins.

But how exactly do you choose the perfect provider for your business?  Should you use cable? DSL? Satellite? How fast should it be? And how much should you pay? Signing up for the cheapest service might keep costs down, but this could easily aggravate employees and keep them from performing at their best. So to help you make sense of all of this, here is everything you need to know about choosing the best internet provider for your small business.

The Lingo

The first thing you’ll want to do is familiarize yourself with some of the terminology frequently used when discussing internet service providers. It’s smart to know what people are talking about so that you can understand better what you need and make the right choices.

So here is some of the most important jargon you should know as you start shopping around for broadband internet service providers:

Broadband

The first thing we should clear up is what is exactly meant by “broadband” internet. This is the term used to describe all the different forms of high-speed internet. It was originally used as a way to distinguish from dial-up internet connections, but those haven’t been used for years. So at this point, whenever you hear broadband, know that it means high speed internet. Then the next thing you should do is ask which type of high speed internet it is, which is something we’ll discuss in a bit.

Speed and MBPS

This stands for “megabytes per second” and it’s the standard way to compare internet speeds. Obviously the more Mbps your internet connection offers, the faster your connection will be.

But be careful. Many internet providers will advertise top speed capabilities, but this number represents only the network’s potential. It’s not an accurate indication of how fast your internet will be. To find this out, you’ll need to ask a customer service rep what the typical speed is in that area, or you’ll need to ask others who use the same ISP what kind of speeds they actual get as compared to what was promised.

Upload vs. Download Speed

This refers to the speed the data you’re transmitting travels in each direction. Download speed refers to to how fast you can take stuff off the internet, whereas upload speed deals with how quickly you can post stuff back up to the internet.

Most ISPs will advertise only download speed, largely because they think that the vast majority of consumers are using the internet only to access content, not post it, which is largely true. But for people or business who spend a lot of time posting videos or uploading information onto a website, upload speed is something you will want to pay attention to when choosing an internet service provider.

And if your business uses cloud-computing services or other shared networks, then upload speed becomes even more important. Most ISPs offer connections with significantly lower upload than download speeds, so if you need them to be comparable, make sure to look for this when shopping around.

Bandwidth vs. Speed

Another thing to remember is the difference between bandwidth and speed. Bandwidth refers to the speed capabilities of the network, whereas speed refers to exactly how fast data flows on that network.

This is particularly important for businesses since you will likely have quite a few devices hooked up to the same network. If you do not choose a connection with high enough bandwidth, then it’s likely you’ll run into problems down the road. Make sure to identify just how many connections you will need to make before you start shopping so that you can be sure to find something.

However, this can be confusing because bandwidth is also measured in Mbps. But when dealing with bandwidth, thing of this as the total amount of speed your network can provide. A bandwidth of 100 Mbps could provide 20 Mbps of speed to each one of five computers connected to the network. But the more devices you add, the slower the connection to each one will be, so make sure you have enough capacity when choosing a provider.

Different Types of Broadband

There are several different connection types underneath the umbrella of broadband internet. Make sure you know the difference between each one, as well as some of the advantages and disadvantages of each, so that you can make the right choice for your business.

DSL

This is an acronym for Digital Subscriber Line, and it was one of the first high speed internet options ever offered. It’s different from other types of broadband internet in that it uses your already existing phone line to deliver an internet connection.

Generally speaking, DSL will be one of the slower options available to you. Most DSL connections offer around 25 Mbps, although some newer options are offering speeds of up to 100 Mbps. But because it uses your unique phone line, you will not need to worry about connection speeds slowing down during periods of heavy use in the area.

However, one big drawback with DSL is that speed is dependent on how far you are from your internet service provider. If you’re in the same city or town as the provider, then DSL can be a great value option. But if the signal has to travel a decent distance, then you may find that DSL is inadequate for your business needs. When dealing with DSL companies, make sure to ask how far away their central office or nearest equipment station is, as this will give you an idea as to how well the provider can deliver on their speed promises.

Cable

Somewhat similar to DSL, cable internet is delivered to you through your cable service. Generally speaking, this allows it to be much faster than DSL—average speeds are around 100 Mbps. But this is not always the case because you will need to share the connection with others in the area who are receiving internet from the same provider.

This is why sometimes the internet can slow down during certain hours of the day; if lots of people are accessing the connection at once, then you’re going to experience slower speeds. Cable internet providers will often advertise high speed capabilities, but later on you’ll likely find that you don’t receive anywhere near that speed.

Satellite

As the name suggests, satellite internet is delivered via a satellite signal. The main advantage of this is that you do not need to be hooked up to cable or phone lines in the area, which is why this is the best choice for people living far from urban areas. But speeds tend to be much slower—usually around 20 Mbps—and because most businesses are located in areas where other options are available, it’s doubtful satellite internet will be the best choice for your small business.

Fiber-optic

Often referred to as FiOS, this is one of the newer forms of broadband internet. When it was first rolled out some ten years ago it was only available in select areas, but that has changed and it’s now much more widely available.

The main advantage to FiOS is that it can deliver tremendous speeds, sometimes as high as 500-1000 Mbps. And because of how quickly it’s growing, you can usually find it for a reasonable price.

Determine Your Needs

Overall, for small businesses, DSL and FiOs connections are typically the best choices. Because they have dedicated lines, you don’t need to worry about decreased speeds during peak hours. Getting the speed you need from a cable connection might require a hefty investment that most small businesses aren’t willing or able to make.

However, which type of connection you should choose will depend on your specific needs, so consider the following when deciding which provider to use.

ISP for Small Business

How much speed?

The biggest variations in internet service providers and the connections they offer are with speed. Generally, faster connections are more expensive, so ISPs will usually try to sell you the fastest internet connection possible. However, this might not be necessary depending on what people actually do with their internet while they’re at work.

Here are some benchmarks to help you understand how fast of a connection you might need:

·         1-5 Mbps: This is good for things such as email, Facebook, and general browsing. You may be able to do some streaming, but load times might be long and the quality may suffer.

·         5-10 Mbps: If you only need standard definition streaming and basic video conferencing, then this might be enough for you.

·         10-30 Mbps: This is good for HD video streaming

·         30-80 Mbps: Consider this connection if you need high quality video communication.

·         80-1000 Mbps: This is the fastest you can get. Speeds such as these are good if you have many intensive users. Depending on the size of your company, you may need to this type of connection to maintain productivity.

Since you likely won’t be watching much Netflix in the office, you probably don’t care too much about how quickly you can stream videos. But most businesses do rely on video and voice conferencing, which is why you’ll probably want to work with an ISP who can offer you at least 30 Mbps. But again, keep an eye on bandwidth, as you want to make sure all users can work with these high speeds.

How many people?

As mentioned earlier, bandwidth is going to be very important for businesses. You’ll want to make sure you have enough so that everyone in the company can do what they need to do without having to worry about a slow or faulty connection.

The best thing to do is to figure out how much speed you think each user will need and then talk to ISPs in your area to see which ones can offer this velocity to all of your connections.

But be careful about cable internet. Since your bandwidth is shared with others in the area, it’s likely the promises made to you by local ISPs will not be accurate, which can result in frustratingly slow internet down the line.

Do You Need to Make Phone Calls?

Voice over internet protocol (VOIP) is a way of making phone calls over the internet that can be much more cost effective than traditional phone lines, especially if you frequently need to call overseas. However, the use of landlines these days is significantly reduced, so spend some time deciding if this service is useful for you. And if it is, then work with your ISP to get it included in your internet service.

Find Out Who’s In Your Area

Once you’re clear about the different options available, and once you’ve thought about what you might need, spend some time looking up the different providers in your area. National companies will be present almost everywhere, but many cities have local providers who are able to offer you better connection speeds and better customer service. Perform a search for broadband internet providers in your area and use this as a starting point when looking for the best option for your company.

Shop Around and Negotiate

Once you’ve identified a few providers who can get you what you want for a good price, it’s time to do some negotiation. Competition out there is fierce, and business accounts tend to be more lucrative for ISPs than individuals ones. As a result, you will have some leverage at the time you sign up, and you should try to use this to your advantage.

Start by trying to drive down the cost of the connection. In general, as a business, you shouldn’t have to pay sticker price. And also ask about bundle options. If you need phone or cable television service, then you may be able to get a discount on your overall bill.

Avoid Contracts

One thing you should try to do is avoid getting into long-term contracts. Many ISPs like to try and lock you down, using hefty cancellation fees to deter people from switching. But unless you can secure a truly remarkable promotional price in exchange for a commitment, be weary about signing up for anything you can’t easily cancel.

Competition among ISPs is at an all time high, and you will want to be able to take advantage of falling prices and improved service without having to fork over a fortune to get out of your current deal.

Find the Right Provider For You

Now that you know all you need to know about ISPs and broadband internet, you should be well-equipped to find the best option for your company. Don’t be fooled by attempts to oversell, and make sure you are clear about what you need. This will ensure you get the best value and the best connection, helping you manage costs and improve overall productivity.