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How to Choose Your Internet Service Provider: Everything You Need to Know About ISPs and How to Choose One That Works For You

Wednesday, Mar 25, 2020 · 5 mins

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Have you ever faced a dilemma about which Internet Service Provider (ISP) to choose? Or found yourself dissatisfied with your current ISP, but unable to figure out the right alternative? If you have, you’re not alone. Most of us have been in this boat at some point in time or the other, despite the fact that India has as many as 326 Internet Service Providers as on December 2018. In this article, we will look at what ISPs really are, how they work, and how to figure out changing your ISP.

What is an ISP?

An ISP or Internet Service Provider is simply a company that provides internet access to organizations and homes. In other words, an ISP provides you with internet access in return for a fee, which is usually charged monthly. Without an ISP, you won’t be able to connect to the internet and all the things we take for granted today — accessing social media, shopping online, or even reading this article — wouldn’t be possible.

Access to the internet is not as simple as it looks. It requires very specific routing, telecommunications, and networking equipment. ISPs help users access networks that actually have this equipment so that they can access the internet in turn. ISPs route internet traffic, resolve domain names and maintain network infrastructure in order to make internet access possible.

How do ISPs really work?

The first layer of internet access is Tier 1 Internet Service Providers. These ISPs have access to all the networks on the internet. You can think of them as the major highways of the internet, connecting all corners of the World Wide Web. Tier 1 ISPs then sell access to their networks to Tier 2 ISPs which then sell internet access directly to home users and businesses. Sometimes, a second intermediary ISP or a Tier 3 ISP will end up buying this network access from a Tier 2 ISP and then selling it to end-users.

When you connect to the internet, traffic goes from your modem to the Tier 3/Tier 2 ISPs network, then to a Tier 1 ISP’s network and then back down through another network of ISPs, after which it reaches the destination.

The underlying technology behind this process can be multi-fold — from DSL to cable to satellite to fibre optics to wi-fi to analog telephone lines or dial-up. That’s the reason that many telecom companies and cable providers also double-up as ISPs — their underlying infrastructure can be used to accommodate the internet traffic.

Are ISPs really needed to connect to the internet?

You definitely need access to an ISP to connect to the internet. If your ISP is down, you won’t be able to connect to the Internet unless you also have access to another ISP. You may be able to use a cellular service provider as a backup to your regular broadband connection— in that case, you can use your cellphone as a mobile hotspot and continue working even when your primary ISP is down.

Should I only go for broadband internet?

The US Federal Communications Commission defines broadband internet speeds as a download speed of 25 MBPS and an upload speed of 3 Mbps. However, the average broadband speed varies widely from country to country — it can range from less than 1 Mbps to over 50 Mbps. This will depend on the speed provided by the ISP in your area.

Other alternatives to broadband internet are dial-up connections (that use older analog technologies), DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) connections, and satellite connections. While DSL and satellite connections are faster than dial-up connections, they are still slower than broadband. So broadband definitely scores over these options.

Companies that offer broadband speeds via cable connections or fibre optic connections are usually the best choice. If you’re looking for speeds up to 1 Gbps or even higher, fibre optic connections are your best bet.

How should I decide which ISP to go for?

With 326 + ISPs in India, this can become a fairly tricky question. Here are some ways you can figure out the ISP that’s right for you:

Underlying technology

The first thing you need to look for with ISPs is the technology that is being used. If you’re looking for high-speed internet, then ISPs that provide fibre-optic broadband connections should be your first preference.

Local service

Make it a point to figure out which ISP provides high-speed internet within your locality. It might just be that a big brand that operates nationally may not be as effective in your area. So talk to your neighbours, check out ISP reviews via Local Search on Google, and find out which ISP works best within your locality.

Look for cost optimization plus flexibility

While it’s important for your ISP to provide value-for-money, it’s also important to check if they have flexible options within the plan. For instance, ACT has a special Gaming pack that provides on-demand speed boosts and data boosts for the user. This can be a great way of getting the right speed when you need it the most.

Post-sales service

There will be times when the internet goes down — maybe there’s an issue with the router or the modem or the connection itself. You want a post-sales service that will resolve issues in real-time, making the customer experience their first priority. Once again, talk to people who live in your area and check out local reviews to see which ISP fits the bill.

The internet has become the lifeblood of our economy, and in fact, our lives. Given what a central role it plays in our lives, even a small disruption can become problematic. That’s why it’s important to understand which ISP meets your needs the best and choose accordingly.

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