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Choosing an Internet Service Provider (ISP)


Choosing an Internet Service Provider (ISP)

Permalink 03:33:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

Most people (90%) can now get broadband over fibre connections so speeds are usually fast relative to those of yesteryear. But there can be a big difference between ISPs that is harder to assess than the comparison websites would have you believe.

There are three main choices: Virgin?s coax cable, ISPs who use BT?s fibre to the cabinet infrastructure, and small independents including satellite providers who are typically fast, high quality, and highest cost options.

Virgin?s headline speeds are typically faster than other provider?s but you need to delve deeper to find out the actual speed you would obtain in real life and at what cost. Virgin connections experience the greatest dip in download speeds at peak time (usually evenings); depending on your use you may not notice it always. Also, the upload speeds are often a third of the BT based ISPs? making cloud backup and photo uploading painfully slow.

BT based fibre speeds are offered in three tiers but the faster your tier the harsher the drop when the lines get busy. According to Ofcom of those customers on nominally 38 Mbps lines, 69% receive an average speed greater than 35 mbps but those on 76 Mbps nominal are worse as only 6% actually receive average speeds above 40 Mbps. This is often a result of the copper wire final stretch between the green cabinet in the street and the property?s master socket. So switching to a different ISP with higher advertised speeds will probably have no effect if you are far from the cabinet.

But different BT based ISPs are different in other respects: some will artificially throttle back the speeds depending on the price you pay or the amount of concurrent traffic passing through their equipment. For example, Sky and TalkTalk offer the cheapest 38 Mbps product for entry level customers whereas others use the middle tier 52 Mbps service. The upload speed difference is more pronounced: TalkTalk limit the top speed to 2 Mbps where many other are set to 10 Mbps.

One reason for the smaller ISPs being able to offer a faster service is that they better balance residential customers with business clients ? groups who have complimentary usage patterns. Also, they do not oversubscribe their backhaul lines as the greater price they charge enables better equipment to be leased.

However very small providers are not able to offer the content delivery networks whereby video (the highest demand media type) is served from content held locally where Google/Youtube, for example, will house a server in a local distribution hub to avoid saturating the backhaul infrastructure.

But in the current market most people buy several services from the same provider. Phone and broadband are often paired and this is usually a good idea to prevent one supplier blaming the other when a problem is experienced. The more additions though, the harder it is to judge the cost effectiveness of a package. This is related to customer service levels ? an area that is often not considered until a fault develops. For this aspect at least it is certainly well worth while taking advice from either an independent expert with wide experience, or the crowd. For the former I am too modest to make a suggestion but for the latter ThinkBroadband.com is the place to go for a consolidated view of thousands of real users. Note that seeking one or two opinions from friends is wasted time ? every company has a few disgruntled customers and a few who have never had cause to test out the features that are important to you. A PC Pro magazine study recently rated broadband providers for customer support, reliability, value, and speed and found that Zen and PlusNet were top of the heap, while Sky, EE, and TalkTalk took the bottom slots.

Finally, beware of charge creep. You should monitor the total package at the end of each contract, typically annually as a small increase in one facility is often unnoticed. Also, beware lockins: line rental for example is often good to pay annually in advance to secure the largest savings, but don?t buy this just before the end of your contract. Your negotiating position will be significantly weakened if they know you would be saying goodbye to over 100 of prepaid line rental were you to switch.

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