9 Questions to Ask When Choosing Your Business Phone & Internet Provider
2020 has brought many lessons, not the least of which is the power of the internet and unfettered communications in business and life. Over the past year, businesses of all sizes were forced to become more digital – and fast. In Q2 2020, consumers spent $211.5 billion on e-commerce in the U.S., an increase of 31.8% over Q1. E-commerce retail grows roughly three times faster than brick-and-mortar shops, and the pandemic was clearly a massive accelerant. Across industries, the percent of employees who work from home for 5 days or more each week increased from 17% before the pandemic to 44% during lockdown.
We’re approaching the thirty-year anniversary of the first website launch ever (in 1991), and now, nearly two billion websites exist. Still, many smaller businesses don’t yet have a website, and company sites are prone to escalating security and speed concerns. This is critically important for companies’ bottom line. In one example, the bounce rate jumps by 12% for every additional second of loading time for mobile visitors – meaning folks are likely to be bouncing onto a competitor’s website.
All of this to say, choosing your business phone and internet provider has never been a more important decision. We’ve rounded up nine questions to ask any telecom provider you’re “interviewing” to ensure you’ll be happy with your business communication solutions for years to come.
Find out what you want to hear from experts:
1. Will you provide me with a dedicated account team?
What You Want to Hear: Absolutely! You’ll have a full team of industry experts to work with, including your account director, solutions engineer, construction manager, project manager, and life cycle manager. And it’s not a different account rep every month; the vast majority of our account directors have been with the company for several years.
We’ll start with this one because it’s so important. Telecom providers are traditionally notorious for their subpar customer service (more on the consumer side, but the point stands). This question is one good way to suss out the level of support you’ll really experience as a client.
2. What’s the process I’d follow if there’s an outage or any other issue?
What You Want to Hear: If there’s an outage or an issue that we didn’t prevent or resolve immediately, we’ll probably already know about it and have a technician headed your way. Our expert NOC team offers immediate trouble-shooting engagement.
You want to make sure to avoid the dreaded, soulless, slow-turnaround ticketing system. If there’s a serious concern such as an outage, it’s important to be able to get someone on the phone and to secure a quick solution.
3. What kind of fluctuations in bandwidth should I expect throughout the day?
What You Want to Hear: The provider who can get as close to “zero” on this one takes the cake.
Residents and businesses alike often notice fluctuations in internet speed throughout the day. On many ISP networks, your latency will increase during peak times of the day. In general, fiber is faster than cable internet (technically, this means it offers higher bandwidth and lower latency), and EIA (Ethernet Internet Access) or DIA (Direct Internet Access) fiber is better than broadband fiber. With EIA or DIA, you’ll receive symmetrical upload and download bandwidth, as well as the direct connection you need to ensure you’ll receive the bandwidths you’re paying for regardless of time of day. The average internet connection speed is 11 Mbps, but your business requires much higher bandwidth. We would recommend speeds between 100 Mbps and 10 Gbps.
4. Is your network wholly owned? (owned entirely by the company you’re considering)
What You Want to Hear: Yes!
Many telecom carrier networks are patchworks of routes, sections of which are owned by other companies. Most of the best-known ISPs out there have pieced together their networks over decades of growth, and while that’s a very common model, it can make network management and problem-solving tough (it’s easier to trace issues back to the source when you own it all).
5. Is your network entirely fiber?
What You Want to Hear: Yes!
Because of the Frankenstein network situation described above, various technologies are usually involved in a network – some copper here and there, with stretches of fiber and intermediary equipment. A fiber-only network boasts fewer points of failure, easier management, lower latency, and stronger signal strength. This is highly unusual; many telecom companies have a network that’s mostly fiber, but very few boast a 100% fiber-only network.
6. What’s your customer retention rate?
What You Want to Hear: 98%!
This one speaks for itself. If the provider isn’t proudly advertising this number and/or doesn’t know the real metric when you ask, chances are good the provider you’re interviewing isn’t beating the competition here.
7. What’s your uptime?
What You Want to Hear: As close to 100% as possible; “five nines” (99.999%) is considered to be a strong uptime. Have a healthy skepticism, though, if you hear the answer “100%” – in that case, ask which timeframe the rep is referring to.
Much like the customer retention rate, sales and account reps should know this number by heart and proudly assert it. If not, you have to wonder if they’ve got something to hide.
8. How is your network protected?
What You Want to Hear: Through a multi-layered network protection strategy including network diversity, metro access ring protection, DDoS protection, and more.
Network redundancy, security, and resiliency are more important now than ever, considering the sharp recent uptick in data breaches. Every day, about 30,000 websites are hacked, and the business world saw a 25% surge in ransomware attacks in Q1 2020. The financial repercussions of security breaches are staggering; a single data breach costs over $150 million on average, causing shares for public companies to fall by around 7.27%. Of course, every enterprise must tackle cybersecurity from many angles, including internal security measures such as password management, education on phishing scams, and more, but network security is a key ingredient.
9. BONUS: Which other communications solutions do you offer?
What You Want to Hear: If you’re looking to receive all of your telecom solutions from a single provider, you may want to hear about the company’s colocation offerings, cloud connections, and more.
If you’re looking for business phone and internet as a package deal (which is a smart move to streamline operations and billing), you might also be interested in other telecom services as well. If that’s the case, common supplementary services include colocation, disaster recovery, cloud connections, and more. How many data center providers does the company partner with?
It’s also a great idea to ask if the ISP offers lit and dark fiber. Dark fiber refers to the practice of leasing out unlit fiber directly from the carrier to the customer. If you’re the customer leasing dark fiber, it’s your responsibility to purchase and maintain the optical equipment that will “light” it, and you have more control over the situation. School districts and governments used to be the primary consumers of dark fiber for years, but it’s become a much more popular model for enterprises lately. Unfortunately, many business internet providers don’t offer dark fiber as an option since it’s often not as lucrative for the carrier.
Though it may feel like business internet is a commodity and all providers are the same, that’s quite far from the truth. We encourage all businesses to shop around and ask the above questions of potential business phone and internet providers. These are basic questions that all telecom service providers should be willing to answer in a transparent, straightforward way. If you’d like to learn more about how UPN would answer those questions, check out this blog.