Comparing business internet service providers (ISP) is tricky so therefore knowing what to ask when deciding on your next supplier can be pretty difficult. In this article I shall offer you some insight to what questions are commonly asked but don't really give you much differentiating information when comparing suppliers and the alternatives that you can try the next time you are assessing which fibre leased line provider is best for your business.

One of the most common questions to a potential supplier of any new service is “What separates you from other suppliers then?” This can be difficult to answer for any industry and I have found this even more so in the fibre leased line ISP industry over the last few years. This is because the margins in fibre leased line provider’s quantitative statistics are becoming slimmer. To expand on this; my experience has shown me that most customers ask about reliability, speed and bandwidth however these three areas are really hard to use as measuring sticks for comparing which leased line providers are good, great or exceptional. I’ll explain why:

  1. Reliability: Any leased line ISP worth considering boasts an uptime of either four 9s (99.99%) or 5 9s (99.999%). The really good ones boast 100% uptime. But what is the difference really? 99.99% means you have only 52.35 minutes of downtime throughout an entire year so is that really a big differentiator? Unfortunately not.
  2. Speed: the speed that you can render a web page or get information back from a server/ service is normally different to the bandwidth. This is a common misconception. It is mainly latency that determines the speed of a connection. Latency is how quickly you can get a response from your requested service; it is your ping response in milliseconds. However, these days there are public peering internet exchange services like Lynx and LONAP (plus many others) where the most used services and IPS’s will connect into them with high bandwidth interconnects to help reduce latency for their customers. Also, bear in mind that latency varies due to many contributing factors which means it is not consistent so unless you have a strong guarantee on the contract you sign, is it something you can really use as a differentiator? Not really.
  3. Bandwidth: on a leased line you chose the bandwidth. Typically this can be anywhere from 10Mb to 10,000Mb (10Gb) and above but you pay for the bandwidth amount. So if all providers you request quotes from guarantee a 1,000Mb service (1Gb) then it comes down to cost. But do you really want to select a service that your business relies on so heavily just on cost? I personally wouldn’t suggest it.

With each of these areas not being ideal differentiators what questions could you ask to choose your next leased line supplier?

1) What other services do you provide?

Why ask this question: This is to assess whether in the future you could take additional services from the same supplier and reduce down the amount of suppliers you need to manage. Plus reduces the possibility of the ‘blame game’ scenario.

“Who supplies that service?”

“What is their contact number and customer service plan?”

“The ISP is saying their service is working fine and the (insert any internet reliant service here) says it isn't their fault either. What should i do?”

These questions may sound all too familiar. The time you least want to hear them is when there is a fault and you have your colleagues chasing you for resolution. As you know, when you work in IT your customers are your colleagues and no one wants to let down their customers in a time of need do they?

If you find an ISP who can also supply additional services over their connection then you have ‘one throat to choke’ as the saying goes. But what this means is that if you have one supplier with one phone number who can look after it all, end to end, it make it very easy for you and your team to manage and the investigations are much quicker from the ISP as they can see everything rather than you acting as a go-between, between suppliers..

The type of services that are worth looking at are LAN/ Wi-Fi management (this is most important as this is where you find the most back and forth between suppliers when trying to find where the fault lies), Internet based telephony (VoIP or SIP), Multi site solutions if needed (SDWAN or MPLS, ideally both) and DC services (Colocation, IaaS, VDCs).

2) Who owns the fibre in the ground and who is the overall carrier?

Why ask this: It heavily affects your delivery time, break fix times and reliability. A lot of ISPs don’t share this automatically.

Most ISPs use the same fibre providers with Virgin Media Business’ average lead time being 95 working days for a leased line installation and BT Openreach’s being 75 working days (yes, working days). This means they start their relationships with their customers by supplying the bad experience of poor delivery times, long wayleave processes and limited service delivery updates as they rely on 3rd party fibre carriers for all of these. Then the same is experienced during faults, upgrades or even renewals; the resolution times are controlled by a third party carrier that you have not chosen and they cannot properly influence.

3) What is your customer service plan and can I be confident that our businesses can work together long term? (Focus on your account manager.)

Why ask this: You are entering normally a three or five year agreement so need to be confident that your selected supplier will support you best. A good or bad account manager can make all the difference.

‘People buy from people’ is a common phrase that we have all heard before but this doesn't mean that regardless of solution and price that we throw money at the guy we would most likely want to go for a beer with. What this actually means is; which company has given you the best experience when you have needed them, who is there for you when you really need them to be or if it’s a new relationship, who has responded to your emails quickly with a transparent response and been able to back up the ‘sales patter’ with tangible stats, facts and figures. It’s about trust. It is about a quality relationship that you know if you need that extra bit of support that the company you have selected will use their internal process as a guide of how to support you best in the quickest fashion but will still bend or even break them when needed. This is opposed to using their process as an excuse to not do what is needed or take longer than the required to get to resolution.

If you have a good relationship with the person you will deal with most often from your chosen supplier and can see that this isn't unique to you (which means they will have a good relationship with most of their colleagues and suppliers) then you can be confident they can also leverage those relationships to help you when you really need that help outside of the norm.

How would Telcom respond to these questions?

To give you an insight to how we at Telcom would respond to each of these questions please see below.

What additional service do Telcom Offer: We maintain pretty much anything that you can refer to as a telecommunications, cloud or internet infrastructure service. All of this runs over our own Core Network and because we install and manage everything ourselves including our own fibre infrastructure in the ground we have the most control possible.

Once you work with Telcom you gain access to the full strength of our portfolio which includes telephony, data centre hosting, Managed internet security and most importantly all of your internal LAN and WAN infrastructure.

Who is the carrier and owns the fibre: Telcom do. We know that the more that we have full control over, the better we can ensure your experience is. This is why we have invested heavily in owning our own fibre in ground, pre-connecting as many buildings as possible to our state of the art fibre network (with wayleaves and RAMs already in place at each of them) and having our leading network development and software development teams in house who work closely with me and our clients to ensure every product in our portfolio is built exactly as our customers' needs.

We are the end to end provider of your service and can even manage your internal LAN and Wi-Fi so truly take care of every bit of infrastructure that connects your staff to the internet.

What is our CSP and AM process: Our clients are at the centre of everything we do and this is why my role as the Head of Relationship exists. By understanding your business operations and strategies we can make our partnerships collaborative so that not only will we consult with you about what technology can help you achieve your business goals but you can have influence over our products and support. This allows our clients to have a meaningful voice and shape our product set/ roadmap.

In Conclusion

The reason I have written this article is that a lot of companies have previously told me that trying to compare business ISPs has seemed very difficult due to the ‘smoke and mirrors’ that quite a bit of the telecoms industry use. With these questions in your artillery, I hope you find differentiating suppliers much easier in the future.

For more information, please feel free to contact me: [email protected]

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About the author:
Edward Davies
Head Of Relationships at Telcom
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