Updated: 2001


Evaluation of Internet Service Providers




A few relevant terms are presented here. There are many available books which describe the internet in more detail.

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The main criteria you should use to evaluate dialup internet access providers include:
Criteria included in this evaluation also includes:
  1. Cost.
  2. Time in business. This older a company is, the more stable it probably is, and the more reliable its service. Small start-up companies can suffer from growth pains, which manifest as inadequacies in technical support and equipment. Equipment problems usually show up as busy signals (not enough modems) or slow response (inadequate processors or bandwidth).
  3. Number of dial-in users. More customers means a more stable company, but it could mean problems with technical support and response time.
  4. Number of modems. The more, the better.
  5. Customer-to-modem ratio. 10:1 to 12:1 is considered good, 20:1 to 30:1 is considered poor, and means you may get busy signals when you dial in. However, although customer-to-modem ratio is a valid measurement for a small ISP with a few hundred dial-in customers, it becomes less meaningful for larger providers. With larger providers with thousands of dial-in customers, the crucial measurement is the percentage of busy signals customers encounter. Capacity in this case is determined by the number of customers actively connected during peak periods as compared to the total number of dial-in ports.
  6. Frequency of busy signals., based upon comments from various parties. You want to avoid busy signals.
  7. Modem vendor and type. Good modems work better but cost more.
  8. Modem speed. The faster, the better. Expect at least 28.8.
  9. Connection type. Dynamic SLIP or dynamic PPP. PPP is preferable.
  10. Backbone connectivity. The faster, the better. T1 is good, connecting at 1.45 megabits per second. Frame relay connectivity means that you are dealing with slower connectivity at 56 kbps. This usually indicates the provider is running out of a low-cost home setup. T3 is much faster than a T1.
  11. Home page available. Useful if you want your own home page.
  12. Own Domain Name Server (DNS). Some ISPs don't have their own DNS, and have to use some else's, which slows down your response time.
  13. Own Newsgroup server. If your ISP has its own newsgroup server (e.g., a separate computer), you will get faster response.
  14. Own Email server. If your ISP has its own email server (e.g., a separate computer), you will get faster response.
  15. Technical support.

Other criteria:
How do your evaluate these criteria?
What are your requirements? Consider your volume, measured in hours per month. Basic users will probably use less than 20 hours per month. America Online and other proprietary online networks offer Internet access as part of their basic fee, but this may not be great access (in my opinion). For example, you may not have complete graphical Web browsing capability, or it may be slow. For a few dollars more per month, you can have complete Internet access, with fast response time.
If you are a heavy-hitter, consider lots of hours at cheaper rates, which are usually offered by the smaller and newer providers. If you want guaranteed reliability, consider some of the older providers, although newer ones also provide good services. If you represent an organization, you might want to consider an established provider so that you will need to change providers in the future.
One factor to consider when evaluating small versus large ISPs, and established versus new, is how they will handle growth. Although this is hard to anticipate, consider the track record as well as the intent of provider. For example, some small providers claim to have a limit on the number of dial-up customers. Larger and more established firms may have more capital available for additional equipment required to handle growth.
Select an ISP that offers reasonable service at reasonable prices. You get what you pay for.
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