Unhappy with your current ISP and looking for something new, or have your business needs changed and your current provider no longer cuts the mustard? If so, what should you look out for in a business-focused ISP?
Depending on the size and the growth potential of your business, choosing the right ISP can be a minefield. There are a number of both large and small ISPs as well as the major telcos out there who promise the world, but on the other side of the coin, many are the subject of complaints about poor quality, poor speeds or good old-fashioned poor service.
When looking for a new ISP, the first thing you should do is research, research, and more research. All ISPs provide details of their plans in terms of pricing, download speed and capacity, but before choosing the cheapest option, take the time to work out exactly what your business needs now and in the future. If you sign up to a cheap plan but don't read the fine print, you could find yourself locked into a contract that does not take into account your data requirements over time.
For any small business, the first step should be to conduct an audit what the business needs now and in two years' time. The current provider may provide a cheap and cheerful service now, but if expansion in terms of staff or new offices is on the cards, or new services are being added which may require more upload capacity, then “cheap” may actually prove more expensive down the line.
If your business needs are small, then price and reliability are the obvious yardsticks. If, however, you are gravitating towards additional services like VoIP or you are expecting to increase the size of your staff, then speed, upload capacity and data connectivity are the keys. For Jim Kellett, product manager at Internode, reliability is the key above all else. “There is also price, although ADSL sorts out most of the price sensitive, but where ADSL starts to run out of steam is when a business needs to increase its upload capacity to the Internet,” he says.
“ADSL is asymmetrical and is very much designed for customers downloading lots so businesses, especially if they are starting to use VoIP and video over IP ,they need more upload capacity. That's where ADSL2+ and ethernet come in, and they are very dependent on where you are. They are very affordable in metropolitan areas but they get a bit scary in regional areas, so roll on the NBN.”
So what should you look for in a provider? If you are comparing on price, all of the major players provide details on their websites. You could also use one of the deal comparison sites such as iselect.com.au, internetchoice.com.au or comparebroadband.com.au but be very wary – some of these sites act as third-party referrers and only carry information from participating companies, so they don't exactly give you an objective view.
For enterprise level customers, it is best to approach each ISP and get a quote for your exact needs. Telstra may be worth having another look at as it is now offering enterprise-level clients with Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) connectivity. IPv6 offers the new, longer IP addresses to overcome the impending shortage of current IPv4 addresses globally.
Telstra says it is now “dual-stacked” and can provide clients with connections to either IPv4 or IPv6. “If customers choose to opt-in to IPv6, they will have access to the global IPv6 internet, including connectivity to multiple providers internationally,” a Telstra spokesperson says. For small to medium-sized businesses, you might want to look at some of the smaller, ISP-specific companies rather than the telcos. Connexus, for example, specialises in creating virtual private networks (VPNs) that can link up to 2000 individual connections.
According to Connexus, “all the sites within the network communicate seamlessly and transparently with one another rather than being routed through a central location and can access the internet via a high speed gateway. Network speed is determined by the interconnection speed of each location and this may vary depending on requirements.”
Connexus provides VPNs on a fixed cost basis, allowing unlimited and unmetered traffic between sites. It has also introduced a hybrid broadband product allowing users to customise router configurations at their core network and the customer premises.
Dodo, on the other hand, specialises in generous download allowances and capped excess downloads for SMBs, multiple static IP addresses and promises not to rate limit connections once the cap is reached.
For SMBs wanting to find out the real lowdown on what ISPs promise to offer and the reality – minus the sales spiel – the best advice is to talk to other, similarly sized businesses about their experiences, or dip into the very knowledgeable world of the whirlpool.net.au online forum. It has everything you need to know about ISPs, good and bad.