Connect like a techie – 8 questions you should ask before choosing an ISP

There are a multitude of internet service providers to choose from in South Africa and while at first blush all internet connectivity looks equal, there are often big differences between internet service providers (ISPs).

For example, an ISP could offer you a 100Mbps fibre connection at an extremely low price but the ISP could have a particularly aggressive fair use policy that throttles connectivity after a threshold is reached.

To that end, RocketNet quizzed its system engineers and technical staff regarding what questions they ask before selecting an ISP and they came up with seven questions you should be asking.

Before we get to that however, we have a question we think is perhaps the most important.

What sort of internet connectivity is available in your area?

Before you begin shopping for ISPs it’s important to know what sort of connectivity is available in your area. While fibre is available in many metropolitan areas, it’s not an option for everybody. As such it’s worth checking whether your area has LTE, 5G or even last-mile wireless connectivity. These wireless solutions are often more expensive than fixed-line connectivity owing to the fact that they require special equipment (on your side or the ISPs) but if they are your only option then the forthcoming questions will be doubly important.

Finding out whether your area has coverage is rather easy but can be a lengthy process as you need to check with multiple ISPs whether coverage is available. Speak to neighbours and members of the community regarding what solutions they use as well to get a starting point.

How does the ISP rank in independent reviews?

Once you’ve found what sort of coverage is available in your area it’s time to check out reviews.

The techies at RocketNet point to Hello Peter as a way to gauge how well a company responds to customer complaints. While we agree, we also recommend checking other platforms such as Google, Facebook and simply searching social media in general. Hello Peter can help but it can often be used as a “last resort” should complaints not be resolved directly.

Be wary of customer testimonials on the ISPs website as these are often cherry-picked. No company is going to tell you how bad or problematic its product or service is so make use of independent reviews.

What is the fair use policy?

An ISP’s fair use policy is generally buried deep within the ISP’s terms of use or terms of service. Fair use policies exist to help ISPs manage network traffic and insure that all customers are able to access the internet connectivity they paid for. These policies often take the form of throttling or shaping (these two phrases are used interchangeably) of the internet connection.

While this sounds at odds with a fair use policy, ISPs generally give customers a threshold as regards how much data the can download and upload before their connectivity speed is lowered.

“Some ISPs don’t shape or throttle internet connections and offer a genuinely uncapped fibre internet experience. If you’re reliant on fast and stable internet, it’s best to choose an ISP that won’t slow down your internet speed when traffic on their network is high,” RocketNet engineers and technical staff say.

Does the ISP help you understand your connection?

This is a big one and, to our mind, where many ISPs fail.

Telecommunications and internet connectivity is a complex beast and many things could affect the quality and speed of your internet. A Windows Update could slow down your download, or your router could be too outdated to deliver the speeds your ISP provides.

Granted, this factor is a difficult one to gauge before you become a customer. However, should you become a customer and your ISP is vague and doesn’t explain why problems exist, that should be a red flag.

Some questions you should as an ISP before signing up are:

  • Do they help you understand your internet issues, like how your router can affect speeds? 
  • Do they point out dead spots in your home and advise how to fix them?
  • Do they help to isolate your internet issues? 
  • Are you able to assess the speed and quality of your line?

It’s also worth checking what sort of tools the ISP gives customers to self-diagnose issues.

How good, or bad, is customer support?

Building on the point about independent reviews, it’s worth finding out how good, or bad, customer support is. Support personal reading from a list of scripted responses is no good to anybody as sometimes a problem is unique and there is no scripted response for it.

Check independent review websites and if you sign up and customer support fails you, it may be worth moving ISPs.

How often do price increases occur?

An ISP sets its pricing based on a number of factors including – and perhaps most importantly – the fibre network operator’s pricing. Yes, ISPs lease connectivity from larger fibre network operators and this can have an affect on the price. If the ISP doesn’t include when prices increases generally happen, ask them about it.

What latency can you expect?

Latency is the time it takes for data to reach a server or for that server to send data to you. The lower the latency the faster this data transfer happens and the higher the latency, the longer it takes.

For things like live streaming, video calls, gaming and even watching video content, low latency is incredibly important. Find out from an ISP what latency you can expect. Note, things such as downloads, streaming and simply using the internet can affect latency so its best to check this when your network is at its quietest.

Which undersea cable does the ISP rely on?

This question is more important than it seems, especially in South Africa.

There are currently undersea cable connecting South Africa to the rest of the world on both the East and West coast of the country. Unfortunately, should these cables be damaged as they have in the past, if an ISP only relies on one of these cables, users could be stuck without internet.

It is absolutely worth asking an ISP what cables they make use of as well as any backups they may have.

“Ideally, you want to use an ISP that connects to undersea cables on either side of the country. If one line goes down, they can break out the internet from the other cable and continue delivering services,” say the technically minded at RocketNet.

All of these questions will serve to help you make a more informed choice when selecting an ISP.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]


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