Internet / Enterprise / Networking

Dedicated Internet Access - The Definitive Buyer's Guide

Dennis Thankachan
Does your company operate mission-critical applications out of a data center? Do you have an office with tens of employees where bandwidth speed and uptime matter?

It’s likely your company is purchasing a Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) circuit (or two) rather than standard best-effort business internet to support such an operation.

Dedicated Internet Access comes with different names and flavors: dedicated fiber (most common - sometimes called dedicated ethernet, fast ethernet, ethernet over fiber), dedicated fixed wireless (can be just as good as fiber nowadays!), and ethernet over copper / T-1 / T-3 for the older school networking folk out there.

The type of DIA available to you depends on provider availability near your location, but nowadays enterprise fiber is nearly ubiquitous in the US and often represents the best bang for your buck.


What are DIA’s features?

Every DIA connection comes with a few key features that justifies the big price delta vs. a best-effort connection.

Guaranteed bandwidth

If you purchase a 100Mbps DIA circuit, you are guaranteed to receive 100Mbps of bandwidth 100% of the time. Compare this with a 100Mbps “shared” connection where 100Mbps is likely the network’s provisioned peak speed, and actual speed is typically much lower.

You’ll read that video calling only requires 5-10 Mbps download / upload per user to work well, but if your network’s average speed is unpredictable, it’ll be impossible to plan for 20 concurrent video calls. With guaranteed bandwidth, you can plan for peak bandwidth utilization and purchase bandwidth around company uses.

Many DIA providers also build out more robust service delivery architecture, redundancy, and generally engineer for high availability.

Symmetric bandwidth

With shared connections, your peak download speed may be 100Mbps, but it’s likely that your peak upload speed is much lower, perhaps 10Mbps. With DIA, your upload speed will match your download speed.

For companies doing things like video calls, VoIP / UCaaS calls, or large file transfers, upload speed is important. For data center applications supporting remote work, fast upload is a must.

Throughput leads to high connection quality

Fast bandwidth in a shared connection merely means that your last-mile circuit accesses the ISP backbone network at a certain speed. However, within the ISP’s backbone network, things likely move more slowly because of how the network is provisioned. This means that your bandwidth might be high (theoretical speed) while your throughput might be low. In many cases this is due to the provider provisioning a set amount of bandwidth for a dynamic pool of customers. If all the customers in the pool need bandwidth at the same time, or there are more customers added to the pool, there often is not enough bandwidth available.

With DIA, you are provisioned to have a guaranteed amount of bandwidth available to you at all times, so you’ll come much closer to realizing your purchased bandwidth speed. Your internet will ‘feel’ much faster.

Connection “quality”

Best effort connections not only vary in terms of the amount of bandwidth and throughput available, but also the actual quality of the connection. "Quality" metrics are typically measured by latency, jitter, and packet-loss. SD-WAN is an excellent tool for measuring this and has really shed light on just how often these best effort connections are in flux.

A recent report that we took a look at showed a company who had a major cable company as both a primary (fiber) ISP as well for a secondary best effort coax connection. The reporting on link metrics was eye opening - the dedicated fiber circuit was predictable and level flat with zero measurable packet loss. The coax connection (again, same provider) however showed circuit errors and latency spikes happening on an almost hourly basis. At first we expected that there was a problem with the physical coax transport (the line itself that was causing these issues) but as we looked at other sites that were also on the same platform we saw very similar metrics. The broadband connections across a wide geography simply had many more issues: not necessarily hard downtime events but enough to degrade a Zoom meeting, hang a web page load or break up a phone call. DIA in every case measured much higher quality.

Service Level Agreement (SLA)

When you pay up for DIA, not only will you get all of the features above, but ISPs will actually GUARANTEE many of the facets outlined above >99% of the time and hold themselves accountable if they don’t deliver. An SLA provided by a vendor on DIA will typically guarantee network uptime, latency, packet loss, and sometimes jitter will meet certain criteria >99.9% of the time that service is provided. If the ISP breaches its SLA, you are guaranteed a refund and may even be able to get out of your contract.

Vastly improved customer support / maintenance

With DIA, ISPs often guarantee a sub-4 hour response time to a trouble ticket. Also, you will get a dedicated account manager who can help you escalate major issues without having to call a “black hole” customer support line. This is a big part of what you pay for, as shared connections don’t often come with these support guarantees.


What’s the catch?

Ok so DIA seems like an amazing deal. Why doesn’t everyone get it then? What are the drawbacks of getting DIA?

Price

A 100M business cable connection may cost $100 - $200 / month. The same bandwidth on DIA may cost ~$1,000 / month. Pricing can vary significantly by provider / location, but the features of DIA warrant a big premium in price vs. a service that’s similar to a home cable internet connection. If uptime on your core applications is critical or you’re running an operation with lots of employees in an office, the ROI on solid internet is very easy to justify.

Contract Term

Often, DIA comes with a mandatory 2-3 year contract term, while shared connections often come with shorter terms or are even month-to-month typically. This makes sense, as setting up DIA requires some capex from the ISP that may not make sense on a shorter contract term. However, there are exceptions here. Pilot Fiber, a regional ISP, offers DIA with a flexible month-to-month term!

Installation interval

If your local cable company is “on-net” at your building, you should be able to get a shared connection up and running in less than a week. DIA is more complicated. Because DIA necessitates truck rolls, provisioning, and equipment installation, best case install intervals are 20-30 days, and average intervals are 45-60 days. If you need DIA at a site, you gotta plan early!


Does your DIA provider matter?

Not really. At this point, internet access is somewhat of a commodity and most provider offerings are quite similar. There are two dynamics to note here.

First, local availability dictates who you can use. Unless a provider is “on-net” or “lit” at your building or data center, getting inside will result in you getting charged (likely expensive) construction fees that you probably wouldn’t want to pay. In most cases, you’re best off working with the providers already in the building.

Second, even the largest providers differ by region. Spectrum may tout a deep fiber network in the northeast while operating an old, poorly maintained fiber network in the midwest. Some providers may lease transport from others in certain locales. Just knowing the specific providers you’re picking from won’t necessarily tell you much.

When making a purchase, don’t compare providers, compare on factors that matter: price, SLA, install interval, transport (fiber or copper, their own or leased, etc.), and speed.

How the hell do I find on-net providers? What about pricing?

Ready to buy? Know what you need? Unfortunately, that’s just step 1. Buying DIA can be a complex process. Validating provider availability at your address is difficult. BroadbandNow is a tool that can help you get started, but it only validates by zip code rather than address (and also has some accuracy issues). Asking your landlord / property manager may or may not also get you some tips. Once you get a hunch as to who might be at your address, you can call providers directly for pricing, but it’ll take at least a few days to get back pricing and details you can compare. You could also work with a telecom agent who does some of this work on your behalf, but that can be fraught with potential issues and conflicts of interest as well.

These issues are why we started Lightyear! With our tool, you can enter in an address and specs for what you need, and you will receive actionable, best available pricing with all the comparison specs needed to make a decision. Also, it’s free to use. If you’re in the market for DIA, give us a shot. Read more on our product here. Fill out our questionnaire if you’re looking to make a purchase soon.

What are you waiting for? Let’s get you pricing.

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