A Small Business Guide to Selecting an Internet Service Provider

Poor internet quality, or a costly service, can hinder a small business no end. So make sure you're going with the best possible provider

A Small Business Guide to Selecting an Internet Service Provider

Being online is business critical to many companies these days, so what questions should you be asking your internet service provider (ISP) to ensure you have the right supplier and the right broadband connectivity?

Do you provide coverage in my area?

Before you even start making comparison charts when choosing an ISP you need to know if they will be able to provide connectivity in your area. Most ISPs will supply information on their website, or just call customer service. Another option is to search online for lists of all the broadband providers that exist in your area. You could try broadbandgenie.co.uk, uswitch.com or comparethemarket.com

What are the installation costs?

All providers will offer different deals to secure a contract with you, but be aware that some will offer free installation while expecting you to pick up the cost for your own router. Others will have an installation fee but will then offer the router as part of the package. It depends if you have your own hardware (or wish to supply your own) as there is little benefit in accepting a router you won’t use.

How long will the installation take?

Some services can involve waiting times of up to several weeks, so if you urgently need broadband in your business, then choose an ISP that can have you up and running in the shortest amount of time.

What is the price after the offer? And how long is the contract term?

The introductory prices may look attractive but they are often associated with longer contract terms. If you want to be able to shop around every year ask your ISP what deals they can do on short and long term contracts. However, if you’re planning on taking the line for a number of years it may be worthwhile signing a multi-year contract for a bigger discount.

What is your uptime guarantee?

What matters most about your connection is uptime. What is the point in paying sums of money for connectivity if it doesn’t work? Ask what SLA (service level agreement) the ISP can offer you and the terms of this. If your business doesn’t have a backup or secondary connection to the internet then it is important to know what guarantees your supplier is willing to offer you.

What are the guaranteed download and upload speeds?

We all want the fastest internet connection while still enjoying reasonable prices. Comparing the most similar plans based on both download and upload speed is essential to discover if you’re getting the right deal for your needs. But also review what you need the connectivity speed for.

What download limits will be in place?

Many ISPs will cap your download capacity at a certain point, meaning that you will need to pay extra if you download anything after reaching that limit.

Firstly, find out whether an ISP offers different download limits for different price plans.

Secondly, it is worth exploring whether any ISPs in your area are prepared to offer uncapped plans, and what guaranteed download speed they can offer.

A third consideration is exactly what the ISP will charge for excessive upload/download which can be a significant consideration if you plan to run a website, or regularly send large files to other people.

What are the hours for your technical support and help desk? What is your average hold time before being connected?

When a problem arises with your broadband, the support helpline is the first port of call. Check the location of the support team, the opening hours of the helpdesk and the average call waiting time from first dial to human voice.

ISPs which offer 24/7 telephone and email support with UK on-site engineers will naturally charge more as their costs will be higher, but if your business operates round-the-clock and needs to access support whenever there is an issue, this may be something worth paying for. If you compare the amount of money lost through non-productive work force versus the extra cost for a premium service ISP then this may be more cost effective.

In conclusion

As with all things, you usually get what you pay for, so if you are happy to pay for a premium business ISP service, make sure you are getting value for money.

If you have any queries about broadband and what to ask an ISP, then ask me via @David_4D on Twitter using the hashtag #businessISP

By David Barker, technical director of colocation and connectivity supplier, 4D Data Centres.

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For further business advice read the Buyer’s guide to business broadband, What does a data centre do? and the IPv6: FAQs

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