Business Internet Buyer’s Guide: Bandwidth, Connection Type, Redundancy, and More
In this guide, we'll share some general considerations to take into account when buying business internet connectivity, whether dedicated or best-effort.
Like a lot of telecom folk, we spend a lot of time unpacking the nitty gritty of industry-specific issues, trends, and topics. Occasionally, we need to remind ourselves that not everyone spends all their time up to their elbows in POPs, LANs, and WANs.
Sometimes, you’ve got to get back to basics, and hand out some straightforward orientation for anyone who’s looking to get their head around the essentials.
So, we’re sharing some general guidance about considerations to take into account when buying business internet. It’s not a “one- size-fits-all” job, but it’s useful if you need to understand what your priorities should be.
No matter what type of internet connectivity your business needs, physical location is going to be a deciding factor in what you can have.
If connectivity is important, then you’ll need to be researching your internet-provider options before you choose your new location – it’s that important.
Locations usually fall into three categories, or market tiers.
Your market tier is an indirect measure of how many customers are available within an area – in other words, the market density. Markets are typically referred to as Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 3 markets. Tier 1 markets contain high-density locations – business districts in major cities, with high-ticket clients stacked up in high-rise commercial property.
Tier 2, as you’d expect, contains the most locations, ranging from smaller city and urban areas, through to large towns and suburban areas.
Tier 3 markets, which include rural, sparsely populated spaces, offer limited business internet provider options – in this market tier, there are often only a single service provider available, and their range of services probably won’t include a lot of enterprise-standard connectivity.
In the middle and lowest tiers, your business internet options are going to depend on your proximity to providers.
Proximity to Providers
To understand how your proximity to providers affects your business internet options, it can be useful to put yourself in their shoes. As we’ve already outlined above, location is everything – and the goal of most service providers is to maximize their return on investment, by prioritizing areas and markets with the highest density of customers.
It’s expensive to build out network infrastructure, and these costs are a defining factor in the calculation models service providers use to decide whether they’ll offer a given service in your location. The service provider will decide based on whether they see your location as “on net,” “near net,” or “off net.” Keep in mind, most
You’re in luck! The carrier already has some or all the network elements in place at your location, so it’s a cinch to get you up and running. You can expect to be plugged in and good to go within 30 to 90 days without a ton of complex installation steps (if you’re buying Dedicated Internet Access), or within a week or so if you’re buying broadband.
Your location is close enough that your business merits a small extension of their infrastructure, for little or no additional cost. It’ll take longer, though, because of the work required – a near-net connection usually takes about 120 days to set up.
If there is no nearby infrastructure, things get trickier. There are three ways this could play out.
Minor buildout. It’s a bit more than running a cable, but you can find a business internet provider who’s willing to connect you (for a small fee, of course). The distance, location, and your other business requirements will determine the timeline, but it’s safe to say it’ll take a while. It’s unlikely to be completed in less than 180 days.
Major buildout. Can you afford it? If so, a service provider will build it. If they can justify putting the infrastructure in place, then they’ll help you create whatever the heck it is you’re building out there. Hope it’s worth it, though – a buildout of this scale isn't undertaken lightly. The provider will need to consult their Outside Plant Engineering team and appoint a project manager. Deadlines on major buildouts are less like agreed dates for completion, and more like running jokes that make a great sound as they go whizzing past.
No bid. Whether it’s someone else’s turf, too far away, or just doesn’t merit the CapEx – for whatever reason, your business internet provider isn’t prepared to extend their network for you.
So, assuming we’ve found the perfect location and all the ISPs are queuing up to satisfy your every internet whim (big assumption, but let’s keep going), what’s the next big topic an enterprise internet buyer needs to know about?
Well, for businesses with multiple locations, site standardization is going to be essential for your procurement process.
If you have many locations, standardization saves you time, allowing you to group your locations according to a rough estimate of typical requirements for that kind of site.
Obviously, on the ground requirements are going to vary. But it’s easier to modify an existing template, than creating an entirely bespoke connectivity strategy every time you add a location.
So, what might these templates, or tiers, look like? Of course, that depends on your business. But here’s a typical set of tiers a company might use to standardize their location requirements. Note how each tier is defined in terms of how much difficulty would be caused by service disruption at that site.
Tier 1 – extra-large location (e.g., corporate headquarters, major distribution facility, major production site, or data center)
A major part of the organization’s wide area network – service disruptions at a Tier 1 location will cause big problems across the entire network, affecting business critical functions, so two fully redundant circuits from diverse carriers are going to be necessary.
Circuit 1 of 2 = dedicated fiber with 1Gbps symmetrical bandwidth
Circuit 2 of 2 = dedicated fiber from a different carrier (using diverse network routing) with 1 Gbps symmetrical bandwidth
Tier 2 = large location (office in a major metropolitan area with a larger than normal staff, large distribution site, large production site)
Service disruptions at a Tier 2 location might not create organization-wide chaos, but there’ll be problems at a regional level.
Circuit 1 of 2 = Dedicated fiber with 100 Mbps symmetrical bandwidth
Circuit 2 of 2 = Broadband procured from a different provider than Circuit 1, with 100 Mbps upload and corresponding download speed.
Tier 3 = medium / small location
Usually, the third tier is the largest grouping, containing most of an organization’s locations or branches – it’s the “workhorse” tier, where the bulk of the everyday work happens. Service disruptions at a Tier 3 location usually only impact that location.
Circuit 1 of 2 = Dedicated fiber with 50 Mbps symmetrical bandwidth.
Circuit 2 of 2 = Broadband ordered from a different provider than Circuit 1, with 50 Mbps upload and corresponding download speed.
Tier ICB (Individual Case Basis)
Tier ICB is where we put the non classifiable items, with their hard-to-categorize specific connectivity needs. If your organization has a Research and Development site or an IT test bench, these are the kinds of locations that would require the ICB treatment. It’s not a template, more an acknowledgement that you’ll need a bespoke strategy for each of these sites.
An extremely remote location might also fall into this category, due to the extra challenges it presents for network connectivity.
Assessing your organization’s bandwidth requirements is tricky. Even if you work out your average use over a period, there’s still many variables to consider.
Generally, it’s better business sense to err on the conservative side with your bandwidth estimates – the reason being, if you need extra bandwidth, providers are likely to be as helpful as they can to increase the value of your contract.
If you’re trying to reduce your requirements, odds are that they won’t be falling over themselves to help in the same way.
This rule of thumb doesn’t apply to every business, though – exceptions might include emergency services or disaster response teams, where business continuity is essential for people’s wellbeing.
Here are some basic figures to get you started with your calculations.
VoIP calls (each concurrent call) = 0.1 Mbps Video / Group Calls (each concurrent call) = 3 MbpS Downloading a large file (each concurrent file) = 4 Mbps Web / email usage (per user) = 0.5 Mbps Media / File Sharing (per user) = 2 Mbps
Application use. As more and more businesses become reliant on cloud-based services, app use is increasingly one of the largest factors affecting bandwidth requirements.
It’s important to get an awareness of what kinds of apps are being used at each location – different kinds of work require different tools. An online graphic design application requires more bandwidth than sales or accountancy software.
The software company is usually the best source of information on the bandwidth requirements of their product, and they’re usually very happy to demonstrate their customer service credentials with this kind of inquiry.
If you’re still scratching your head, here are some more points about business bandwidth considerations to mull over.
Now you’ve got a sense of what you need from your business internet providers, it’s time to look at what they have. Here are the main internet connection types.
Yes, it is still a thing – even if you haven’t encountered it in this century.
There are still parts of the world that rely on dial-up internet, provided by carriers like NetZero, AOL, Earthlink, Turbo USA and Juno.
At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s not a good choice for business internet.
ISDN and DSL
This copper-based service uses the same infrastructure as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). It’s not the fastest option, and due to market forces, copper’s days are numbered – most providers are looking to actively phase it out.
Broadband / Cable Internet
This high-speed internet service uses the same coaxial infrastructure as cable television, and it’s usually considered as an alternative to fiber, for businesses looking for a “best effort” broadband service. “Best effort” services generally provide internet over infrastructure that’s shared with other customers and can be subject to traffic delays.
Here are some things you’ll need to know if you’re considering cable internet services.
It’s quick to install. If you choose a cable internet service, you’re usually up and running in less than 45 days. And if there’s a buildout requirement, it’s almost always much faster than an equivalent fiber-base buildout.
Your download and upload speeds will be different. For technical reasons, cable internet offers asymmetrical bandwidth, with the result that upload speeds are much slower than download speeds. For many businesses, this matches their internet-usage pattern, so it’s not necessarily a deal breaker.
Latency? Not bad – but it’s not fiber. Cable internet performs well when it comes to providing a consistent speed of data transmission. However, it’s regularly outperformed by fiber.
Oversubscription. A slightly unwelcome side effect of sharing a cable network with lots of other businesses, the impact on day-to-day performance is mercifully minor, most of the time.
Pricing. When comparing like-for-like with a fiber solution, you’ll need to look at how the pricing measures up for both download and upload to get the full picture. Typically, while the download bandwidth prices for cable are comparatively cheaper, you end up paying over the odds for the upload bandwidth quota, due to the technical limitations.
Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) / Dedicated Fiber
For some time, fiber’s been comfortably leading the market as the “gold standard” against which all other connection types are measured. Fiber delivers high speed throughput with consistency over long distances, which makes it the perfect choice for business internet in many instances.
There are a couple of fiber facts that are useful to keep in mind.
Best effort vs. dedicated. Fiber customers can choose for their data to travel coach class, on a “best-effort” service alongside everyone else (and consequently vulnerable to oversubscription issues, like cable).
Alternatively, they can opt for a dedicated fiber connection, which costs more but ensures that your fiber connections aren’t shared with anyone, so you won’t be met with the oversubscription issues caused by heavy traffic.
Patience will be required for the install. Fiber connections take a while, and businesses waiting for an installation often need to temper their expectations.
Even on-net fiber implementations rarely happen in less than 45 days – the provider will generally quote a lead time of between 90 and 120 days. A near-net fiber connection isn’t likely to happen in less than 120 days and will often take much longer.
Off-net fiber build outs, as we said earlier, will require you to achieve Zen mastery levels of patience, and prepare for the possibility that your grandchildren may be the first people to enjoy your new business internet fiber connection.
Your best chance of freedom from latency. There isn’t really another service that can match the latency metrics of a fiber-connected internet service.
There are three main types of wireless business internet to choose from.
Satellite internet. Transmitting your internet data to your location via an orbiting satellite, this service comes in two varieties that may look similar – but they’re actually miles apart. 21,000 miles apart, to be exact.
The more traditional version relies on satellites in geosynchronous orbit. As the satellites are positioned high above the earth, each satellite can cover a larger area. High-speed links deliver around 20 Mbps, but there is unavoidably high latency, due to the distances involved.
Low-earth orbit satellites provide much lower latency, and high-speed links using this method deliver up to 300 Mbps – but there’s less coverage per satellite.
Both kinds of satellite internet service benefit from a speedy roll-out – installations can take less than 30 days, much of which time is spent setting up your location’s satellite receiver.
However, setting up your dish can sometimes require tricky negotiations with the landlord, and you’ll also need to route cabling from the dish (often on the roof) through to your business telecom closet.
You’ll also find that data caps and usage plans play a significant role in your agreement.
Cellular broadband (mobile). Transmitted via cellular towers, LTE, or 5G cellular broadband is basically the internet you get on your phone.
It’s the simplest possible set-up – you’ll just need a router or modem at your location, and you can be online the same day.
It’s a limited service though. Your typical speeds differ, depending on whether you’re using LTE or 5G.
On LTE, you can expect download speeds between 12 and 30 Mbps, and upload speeds between two and five Mbps. 5G is much faster, with around 50 Mbps download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed.
The speeds provided here represent an average, but it’s worth pointing out that cellular can provide much faster performance, depending on several specific factors.
Proximity to the cell tower is key – if you’re located near the tower, you can expect much better performance metrics for both speed and latency.
As you’re connecting to public cellular networks, you can also expect oversubscription to create problems, as people move in and out of the range of the cellular tower.
Fixed wireless. A high-speed internet connection that’s transmitted directly between two dishes – one at the business location, and another at the service provider’s tower. The dishes are aimed at each other and must have a clear line of sight to function.
It's quick to roll out, only requiring the procurement and installation of the dish and onsite equipment. Like satellite internet, though, you might run into some of the same problems around angry landlords, and you’ll also need to cable from your dish to your telecom closet.
Redundancy and Diversity
If internet connectivity is a major part of your business, then it’s important to give some thought to how redundant circuits and diverse routing can be used to protect your business network. We’ve covered redundant and diverse internet connectivity extensively in this previous article for anyone who needs to prioritize this concern.
Hopefully, if this is your first procurement rodeo, you’ve now got a solid set of ideas to help you formulate your buying process. And if you’re feeling daunted by everything we’ve just outlined, here’s the good news – there's a much simpler solution.
Lightyear’s automated telecom procurement platform is ready to make things super easy for you – a brief questionnaire is all that’s required and you'll have internet options in a snap. If things get tricky, we’ve got a team of expert telecoms professionals ready to smooth your path, and get you set up with the perfect business internet provider and solution.
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