How Many Business Internet Connectivity Options Do I Have?
Ever wonder how many business internet ISP options you have at your location? The answer is complicated and depends on both location and service needed.
It sounds like a straightforward question, doesn’t it? Regular readers are probably laughing at the idea of a “straightforward” telecom question.
So, here’s the TL:DR (too long; didn’t read, for the uninitiated) version – your connectivity options depend on where you’re located, and what kind of service you need.
Obviously, there’s a bit more to it, so let’s run some numbers.
In the US alone, there are currently 2,846 internet service providers. Probably a bigger number than you’d expected! But they don’t offer the same services.
Here’s a summary.
864 DSL “Digital Subscriber Line” providers
258 copper providers (Business T1/T3 connections)
444 cable companies
1,593 fiber internet providers
1,753 fixed wireless broadband providers
49 mobile broadband and LTE providers
Let’s look at these different types of internet service in more detail.
Different Types of Internet Service
The granddaddy of them all, dial-up internet service is (unbelievably) still available in some corners of the world (mainly rural, underdeveloped areas). Some of the larger companies offering this retro hookup include NetZero, AOL, Earthlink, Turbo USA, and Juno.
At the risk of stating the obvious, you probably shouldn’t choose this for your business internet (unless you’re really going all out for a fashionably retro brand identity).
ISDN and DSL
Carried by the same trusty copper plant that’s used for POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), this is a rapidly diminishing option existing providers want to phase out and replace with faster alternatives.
This high-speed internet option uses cable TV coaxial infrastructure. Also known as DOCSIS, this resilient fiber alternative is typically deployed for “best effort” broadband internet services, as it can’t quite match the performance metrics fiber provides. Cable internet is cheaper than fiber and dedicated fiber (typically) but comes with asymmetric bandwidth (much more download than upload) and no SLA protection on your connection.
First choice for many businesses, fiber accounts for about 20% of all US internet connections, with availability as probably the main constraint on its growing market share. It’s super reliable, providing high-speed throughput over great distances. Fiber typically has symmetric bandwidth, and higher overall bandwidth than cable internet options.
As the name suggests, satellite internet connectivity uses satellites in orbit around the Earth to wirelessly transmit data.
While geostationary satellites have been used for internet services since the late ’90s, newer services such as Starlink are increasingly reliant on low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites. Their proximity to the ground reduces the distance data needs to travel, so latency is reduced – but it comes at the expense of coverage, so more satellites are needed to provide the same coverage you’d get with a geostationary satellite.
Cellular Broadband (mobile)
Wireless internet transmitted by cellular towers, cellular broadband is a term commonly used to refer to 5G or LTE services.
A high-speed internet option, frequently used in rural or semi-remote locations, fixed wireless is provided by transmission between two dishes pointed directly at each other, with clear, unobstructed lines of sight.
So, what factors influence the availability of these different types of service in your area?
Why Different Locations Get Different Internet Services
Local market factors. As internet connectivity isn’t regulated in the same way as utilities, ISPs must think hard before attempting to penetrate any regional market for business internet. Calculating the Total Addressable Market (TAM) is usually a prerequisite for any planned expansion – considering the following factors.
Current market size
Market growth rate (or shrinkage)
Likely number of business internet contracts available
Average business size
Type of businesses
Business location density
Return on investment (ROI). For any ISP looking to expand their services into a new market, there’s a heck of a lot of capital expenditure (or capex) needed. If you’re a fiber provider, for starters, there are a few upfront costs you’ll have to carry.
Sourcing and leasing/purchasing locations for your core points of presence (POPs) in the area
Constructing or upgrading existing facilities to meet requirements for functions like HVAC or redundant power
Purchasing core network equipment for transport, routing, and switching
Human resources – you’ll need to recruit, hire, train, and equip technicians and engineers
Creating fiber termination points, splice points, repeaters, and remote offices at regular intervals throughout the area
Exhaustive research into business district population densities, to make sure you get the closest possible sites to the largest number of customers.
This last one can be tricky – if you think about the potential value of New York City as a connectivity market, then think about how obstacles like Central Park could make it difficult to reach customers, you’ll get the picture.
A mile of fiber costs roughly the same, wherever you lay it. It’s much easier to make a return on investment in densely populated areas – which is why rural areas are often underserved by ISPs. The federal government has provided grant funding in recent years to encourage more capex investment in rural areas, bringing much-needed connectivity to smaller communities.
Characteristics of different services. Each type of internet service comes with its own unique advantages and disadvantages, which add up differently according to the market circumstances.
Take fixed wireless, for example. It’s got a relatively low capex cost, it’s faster than cellular, and it’s less prone to latency than satellite.
As a result, it’s a fast-growth service that works well with other carrier methods – a common deployment involves procuring fiber connections to an existing cell tower and creating a central fixed wireless point with line-of-sight connectivity to neighboring businesses and residences.
But there are plenty of other situations (and locations) where fixed wireless loses out to other services. Cable ISPs have managed to leverage the massive existing infrastructure of cable TV and keep their solution competitive at an enterprise standard for decades through pure innovation and relentless dedication to their DOCSIS technology.
And the rest? Cellular is readily available in most locations, but until 5G was introduced, the limited throughput cellular provided simply wasn’t enough for most enterprise networks. And 5G, while great for throughput, fails as an enterprise solution due to lack of range.
Satellite has you covered almost anywhere on Earth – but often comes at a sky-high price, with unavoidable latency issues, even from low-earth orbit-based solutions.
Though many areas are still heavily reliant on copper, the industry is intent on phasing it out, so it’s not always a given that your ISP is likely to continue the network maintenance required to keep ISDN and DSL lines in active service.
How To Find Out What My Business Internet Options Are
Until recently, it’s been difficult to pinpoint which of the USA’s 2,846 business internet providers were active in your area.
Given the number of variables involved, businesses were reduced to asking around, taking advice from brokerage firms (who were often on commission), or developing RSI from clicking around on an exhausting website trawl.
This clear market need is one of the reasons Lightyear exists. Filling out one questionnaire on the Lightyear automated procurement platform, with a basic description of your connectivity needs, provides you with a comprehensive, vendor-agnostic list of all your business internet connectivity options.
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