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Getting broadband & Choosing an ISP

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So you're thinking of getting Broadband? Before you sign up, think very carefully which ISP you go with. Unfortunately too many people sign up with ISPs without thinking things through properly and not looking at the full options available.

They may opt for what may seem the simplest option by going with one of the large ISPs because of what may seem a good offer advertising "unlimited", and then find themselves locked into a 12/18 month contract with unsatisfactory service, and a product that isn't really unlimited.

Don't be tempted to go with an ISP simply because they are offering a free modem etc, there is way more to it than this. Look at total cost of ownership, the services they offer and the customer service record.

~ How to choose your ISP

Use the following to help you decide which ISP to choose.

~ How fast will it be and what speed connection will I get?

ISP's advertise their service as "Up to". There's two types of speeds you will see mentioned with the up to figure usually relating to the connection/sync speed.

Connection Speed:- The speed at which your router connects or synchronises to the equipment at the telephone exchange. Your sync speed depends upon the length of your telephone line and distance from the exchange. Rate adaptive adsl will always sync to the exchange at the best speed it can depending on the quality of your line. Due to the law of physics, someone living several km from the exchange will never be able to sync as fast as someone living much nearer the exchange.

  • If you already have adsl, then using the sites maximum speed calculator should give you a rough idea of the maximum speed your line is likely to attain. The max speed calculator requires your downstream attenuation figure which can be obtained from your line stats. See how to get router line stats.
  • BT Wholesale keeps a database of the estimated connection speed for your line. You can check the database by putting your telephone number in the adsl checker. Be aware that this test is often conservative.
  • Although there's not much you can do about distance from your exchange, there are several things you may be able to do to improve the quality of your line and eke a bit more speed from your connection. See how to improve your broadband connection speed.

Throughput speed:- This is the 'real time' speed of your connection and how fast you can actually download files at. Throughput speed is dependant upon various factors such as congestion at the local exchange or how contended your ISP is. Generally speaking the cheaper products tend to be more contended than higher priced ones and they have more users sharing the same amount of available bandwidth.

~ How much bandwidth?

Everyone's usage varies - many users get by quite happily using just a few GB per month whilst this figure would be highly inappropriate for lots of others. Most ISPs will let you upgrade for free to a higher package if your chosen product proves insufficient for your needs.

Generally speaking if your internet usage mostly consists of email and surfing then you wont need much bandwidth. Streaming Media such as BBC iplayer, 4OD etc and even viewing a lot of youtube videos will start racking up your usage. P2P type applications are said to consume the most amount of bandwidth.

Free tools such as Netmeter and Netlimiter 2 Monitor keep a record of how much bandwidth you use. Be aware that these tools can only monitor traffic on the local PC, therefore if you have more than one PC, it will need to be installed on computer and totaled.

~ CAPs FUPs & 'Unlimited'

  • CAPS: - Once you've reached your download allowance, the ISP will either (a) charge you for the additional bandwidth or (b) restrict your throughput speed to somewhere around dial up speeds.
    Check the small print to find the ISPs policy what happens once you reach your limit.

  • FUP- Fair Usage Policy:- Often accompanies 'unlimited' headlines and details of the fair usage policy can often be found hidden somewhere on the ISP site. Some ISP Fair Usage Allowances are quite generous, whilst other ISPs FUPs can be ridiculously low. Check any caps or Fair Usage Policies (FUPs) carefully. Some ISPs FUPs may only apply during Peak time periods.
    See ISP CAPS and FUPs which lists the situation at many ISPs.

  • "Unlimited":- Very few ISPs offer a true unlimited service - at the time of writing there are only two ISP's that offer true unlimited for home users. Don't believe all the "Unlimited Downloads" hype that you may see advertised on some ISP sites. Look carefully at the Terms and Conditions - several ISPs claim unlimited but achieve this by throttling speeds or blocking certain ports. Most Unlimited accounts either have some sort of Fair Usage Policy or are traffic shaped. - See 'unlimited ISPs'.
    In the current climate bandwidth costs and BTw fees aren't cheap, therefore IPStream ISPs simply can't afford to offer true unlimited downloads. If it looks too good to be true - then it probably is.

~ Customer Service and Support

Sadly its a well recognised fact that certain ISPs have poor performance when compared to some others. Most complaints seem to come from those ISPs which have large call centres where first line support is often scripted and may be outsourced.

Some ISPs support is reknown for being excellent and their CS support staff have a far better understanding on how adsl works and are able to resolve problems more promptly and efficiently. Check user comments from the compare ISP ratings page.

  • Premium rate call numbers - Some ISPs charge 50p - £1 per min. 0845 numbers indicate "lo-call" rates which are normally 1p per min off peak 4p peak.

  • Hours of availability - Is 24/7 support important to you or are you ok with just Office Hour support?

The detailed ISP information page will tell you more about individual ISP open hours, their call charges and location etc.

~ Connection costs and set up fees

All ISPs have to pay a fee to BT Wholesale for connecting your telephone line to the adsl equipment at the local exchange. These costs can be £40 + VAT for a new connection and/or LLU migration.

Moving from an IPStream ISP to another IPStream ISP costs £11 + VAT. This process is called migration and you will need a valid MAC key - See adsl migration & MAC key process.

Some ISPs subsidise this cost, whilst others require that you pay these fees up front. Understandably if an ISP subsidises this cost then they require a longer contract in order to recoup these fees.

~ Contract length

Many ISPs tie you in a contract in order to recoup set-up fees and hardware costs such as a router.

Look at contract lengths carefully to see how easy it is to move away if things go wrong, and if any penalties are incurred if you need to move away whilst within your contract period.

~ Some other points to consider:-

  • Webspace ~Do you want webspace ~ How much space? ~ CGI scripting ~ Bandwidth.

  • Contract ~ Length of contract ~ What happens if you have a problem? Be wary of long contracts.

  • P2P ~ Some ISPs are more strict on others as regards from using peer to peer applications such as Kazaa. Check out throttling and network performance.

How I chose my ISP

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