The best available business Internet is critical to companies of every size. Even small businesses now use SaaS applications to run HR, point of sale, inventory, track sales transactions, bookkeeping, and their phone systems. All those applications are accessed over IP connectivity. Some larger organizations have the budget for private IP connectivity such as MPLS but many companies access their business applications using Internet.
3 Tiers of providers to Understand
Tier 1 Internet providers are the networks that make up the backbone of the Internet. They are sometimes referred to as backbone providers. These ISPs (Internet service providers) build networks in a geographic region and have peering agreements with each other to carry traffic. Other smaller providers are required to purchase connectivity from the backbone (tier 1) providers in order to connect their networks and clients to the internet. The US tier 1 ISPs are primarily Centurylink, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint who is now Deutsche Telekom.
When you have Internet from a tier 1 provider they are often able to keep your internet traffic on their own network as long as possible (cold potatoe routing) in order to provide the fastest connection with the least amount of “hops”. Tier1 providers are the preferred Internet providers for businesses whose Internet traffic is critical and require very low delays.
Tier 2 providers such as Comcast, Sparklight, Cox, TDS etc are obligated to purchase bandwidth from Tier 1 providers and they also peer with other tier 2 providers to build out their networks and connect customers. Tier 2 doesn’t mean the service isn’t reliable but it means traffic has to take additional hops from network to network in order to reach its destination. Those additional hops can cause lag and delay.
Tier 3 providers such as Rise Broadband, InfoWest, GoFiber and many wireless ISPs connect customers to the Internet without having a network of their own. Tier 3 ISPs focus on local business and consumer market conditions. They provide the “on-ramp” or local access to the Internet for their customers, through cable, DSL, municipal fiber or wireless networks. Their coverage is limited to specific geographical areas, such as a metro area. Tier 3 ISPs utilize and pay higher-tier ISPs for access to the rest of the Internet.
Best Internet providers for small business
Local LECs or local exchange carriers are usually the Tier providers in the market place. In the west for example that would be Centurylink/Lumen, In California it might be AT&T or Verizon. Many of you may be conditioned to hate the local providers because that’s what tier 2 guys do to sell you on the their service. But whats funny about that is the Tier 2 providers are just reselling the tier 1 providers bandwidth. So if you can get fiber optics from the local LEC for a reasonable price with dedicated speed that’s typically the best option. This is their core business and they are the best int eh world at it. For example…Currently, Lumen has 450,000 global route miles of fiber and 170,000 on-net buildings. It also has 350 Lumen data centers globally as well as connections to 2,200 third-party data centers in North America, Europe & Middle East, Latin America, and Asia Pacific, as well as to the leading public cloud providers. Tier 1 providers have the largest most diverse networks meaning less failures, more security and 24x7x365 monitoring in their NOC. This also means can you deal with a single provider at all your offices. Most Tier 2 providers are local and can’t grow with your business when you open that new office in LA or Atlanta, a Tier 1 provider can and will have local support as well.
CLECs are competitive local exchange carriers such as AireSpring, Windstream, Comcast, Cogent, Cox, Granite, Zayo etc. Even the LECs can be CLECs in markets they aren’t the incumbent. That’s what allows LECs to offer competitive service in many different geographical markets. CLECs have a combination of their own network infrastructure and partnerships with ILECs to provide high speed, high reliability fiber optics anywhere in the country. If you don’t like the local carrier or can’t find a competitive rate the next best thing is a CLEC who will shop its many partnerships to find the cheapest local loop and aggressively price its Internet port to provider a highly competitive solution with similar monitoring, SLAs and performance of a Tier 1 LEC provider. CLECs provide enterprise class internet access service that offers the flexibility and scalability to meet the needs of your business both today and in the future. CLECs offer nationwide fully managed IP networks with 24/7 proactive monitoring.
Cable providers are often also CLECs but not always. There are smaller carriers such as Spectrum, Sparklight, Ziply, Suddenlink etc. Fiber will almost always trump cable connections but most of these regional cable providers offer fiber solutions in addition to traditional coax cable. The primary benefit here is cost and availability. If you have offices in rural cities where the LEC fiber either isn’t available or is too expensive then a cable provider is a solid alternative. Most are aggressively prices and when connected with carrier grade SD WAN or enterprise routers they can be one of the best connectivity solutions to connect remote offices to the corporate Head quarters.
Internet is the lifeline for most businesses in today’s world. We connect to our clients over the internet with phones, email and text. We connect to vendors, suppliers and the software that runs our businesses over the internet. While many people seem to view Internet as a commodity they expect to get for near free, imagine trying to run your business without Internet.
I would argue that the most critical tool for your business needs outside of your own product or service is Internet. And with many technology products you get what you pay for. So make sure you budget for the best Internet you can get, not the cheapest because when it comes to quality bandwidth it can make or break the customer and the business experience.