Things your ISP will not tell you by Getachus

This is a nice one I caught up with on the website of Getachus Network, a local ISP.

New ISPs are opening up across the country every day. Most major cities have numerous local and nationwide providers willing to bring the global Internet to your desktop, allowing you to reach out and explore the vast expanse of information and services available. This mass infiltration of Internet providers into modern society allows almost anybody with a computer and modem to connect, reap the benefits of the network, and establish a presence in the online world.

Unfortunately, with every “LABAJA” on the street starting his own ISP, there has been a tremendous influx of incompetent providers. These people learn just enough to struggle through the basics of internet administration, and barely set up a workable system. These systems are often unreliable, don’t provide needed services, and are prone to all sorts of problems. The vast majorities of Internet service providers, probably as many as 90%, is incompetent and are doing a disservice to their users.
People searching for a provider should always be extremely critical of the ability of various providers to follow through on what they claim to offer. Individuals looking for a provider for home Internet use probably don’t have a need for “top of the line” network gurus setting up the system and being on call for reliable, advanced technical support, but they do need to make sure their provider is knowledgeable enough to keep the system running, and provide smooth, consistent network access. Companies looking for access and individuals with advanced needs almost certainly need to find assurance that their provider is highly technically competent, and is well-connected to the rest of the Internet.

If you are knowledgeable about the technical workings of the Internet, incompetence is quickly spotted. Most people, however, will have to rely on word of mouth and careful observations before coming to a decision. The hundreds of inferior, incompetent Internet providers thrive off of consumers who choose a provider without intelligently comparing the possibilities. If you are in the market for a provider, be sure to protect yourself against these unskilled providers. Keep in mind though that unskilled Tec support personnel is not necessarily an attribute of a smaller provider. I’ve heard horror stories from users of some large ISPs, when all the knowledge of Tec support person was just enough to suggest you to reboot the machine.

At the point of purchasing your internet access equipments from an ISP, there are several things your ISP will want to hide from you. Some of them are as follow;

The level of support they will be ready to provide you.
Actual Bandwidth that will be made available to you.
Their Redundancy level.
Installation Time frame.
Total cost of your purchase.
Licensing Issues.

TIPS ON HOW TO PICK A GOOD ISP
Selection Criteria
Buying an ISP Service is a lot like buying a computer. If you are looking for a minimum cost, bare bones computer for your kids, you might seek out the lowest priced system on eBay or even assemble something yourself from parts bought at a Ikeja market. However, if you are buying something for your company that your business will depend on, you would probably choose differently.

As with buying a computer, your choice of Internet providers should be driven by your intended use.
For your business, you might consider buying the most expensive solution exercising the theory that you get what you pay for. However, once you’ve really studied the question, the right choice might well turn out to be a mid-range system from a stable, industry wide recognized provider.

There are some low cost IP service suppliers who claim to be just as good as the others, but may not be in business next year to prove it. Conversely, there are other suppliers who will attempt to justify providing the same level of services as their competitors, at many times the price.
This guide suggests a set of questions to pose and evaluation criteria against which you can compare and contrast the different Internet service companies you have to choose from. In this exciting but still maturing market, the lure of Internet connectivity and Enterprise Wide Area Network outsourcing will require many companies and individuals to evaluate service providers within the next couple of years. The intent of this guide is to stimulate your thinking on the subject while challenging you to challenge your provider!

Technical Staff
Probably the most important aspect to consider when choosing a provider is the quality of their technical staff. The technical staff are the folks who will get your connection running to begin with and then keep it and the network running in the future.

Check the experience of their staff in TCP/IP data networking. They should have several people who have been running TCP/IP data networks for close to 10 years. The average experience is also relevant, as it’s likely that you won’t usually deal with their most senior people. However, it’s reassuring to know that the very senior people are available if you need them. Make sure that their “technical” staff consists of people who are experienced with TCP/IP and not of people whose previous assignment was “networking related” and have now been assigned to this new project.
Make sure the provider has adequate staffing to cover the usual situations. If they send people to Internet Expo for a week, how many people are back at the office running things and how skilled are they? If they only have a few technical people and they all go to shows, then what happens if your network connection breaks while they are gone for a week? (Be suspicious if they say they can handle it by dialing back in…)

Network Operations
Check out their network operations center (“NOC”). It should be staffed by at least one person always. This includes nights, weekends, holidays, and during important sporting events. If they are quick to claim “24×7” operations, you might ask them what they provide the other 358 days of the year. An amazing number of providers claiming 24×7 operations really mean that someone will answer the phone all the time, not that they will have someone capable of dealing with your problem. An answering service or beeper number is no substitute for a trained network engineer. Look for provider with one being always available and not just on call, as you can never tell when your connection will fail and what critical project it will have an impact on.

Organization
Find out how long the company has been in the IP business. Determine if they are going to be in business for the long run. Maybe that deal is a bit too good to be true for a good reason. Quality networks are not built on a shoestring budget. The pricing may look attractive now, but the passage of time often reveals hidden costs and price increases, the greatest of which can be having to switch providers.

Customer Base
Find out how many customers the provider has. Don’t be mislead by the total number of customers the provider may brag about having. The number of organizations willing to pay 60,000 Naira per month for connectivity is a lot better indicator of the service quality than the number of individuals willing to pay 6,000 Naira.

Comparison Shopping
Do a price/benefit analysis. Some providers may appear to be priced less than others. Make sure you do an “apples to apples” comparison. Don’t compare one provider’s no frills service with another’s full service offering. Don’t be confused by the names of the products. What one provider thinks is Basic may be minimal or useless to you.

Don’t be afraid to ask for customer references and talk to them. See what issues current customers have. They will likely be similar to yours.
The key to asking any question of a potential ISP is to listen to how you are answered. You’re doing this (asking questions) to see how they respond. There’s no one right question to ask; instead it’s a question of feeling comfortable with how you are answered, in addition to getting the information you need.

Speed and bandwidth
Bandwidth is the capacity an Internet provider has to allow users online. Most providers will link themselves to the Internet by working out the average number of people using their service at once. In such a case it is unlikely your ISP would be able to support all of its users downloading at full speed. Fortunately no-one needs that kind of access. Most people spend the bulk of their time reading or using materials which they have downloaded from the Internet.

As a guide the more bandwidth (capacity) the provider has in proportion to its number of Customers, the less speed problems you should encounter. This is difficult to determine other than by asking other users about their own experiences as providers usually will not disclose their subscriber numbers.

Redundancy
Redundancy means the provider has back-up systems which will keep going if the primary system fails. This means loss of service can be minimized or eliminated. Many businesses that rely on Internet access will need to choose a provider with fail-safe systems to minimize system failures that are under the control of the provider.

Licensing
You must confirm if your provider is properly licensed by NCC to provide you internet service, and secondly if his license covers you. If he claims to be licensed demand for his license number which can be verified easily on the NCC website.

Checklist
Treat this as an ISP Shopping Checklist. Go through all of these steps, and you will have a good chance of finding your new, full service, professional Internet service provider and create with them a long and trusted relationship.
Beware of a fly-by-night ISPs.

Look for telltale signals:
Is there a physical address listed?
Is the phone being answered by the same person no matter when you call?
Are the offers too good to be true?
Ask the age.
Though not always an accurate indicator of financial health, checking on the longevity of a business can weed out fly-by-nighters that set up shop only long enough to take your money and then split.
Local call access.
Does the ISP provide local call acess? Connecting via long distance is expensive (duh), so always check that local call access is provided.

Support.
Will the ISP set up your computer for you or provide clear instructions for you to follow?
Does the ISP have a phone support service during the hours when you may need it (possibly evenings and weekends)?
Does the ISP charge for support beyond basic set-up help?
Does the ISP provide a toll-free or local technical support number or will you have to call long distance to get help?
Is the support phone number readily available on the website?
Try to dial the number. How difficult is it to get through to the ISP’s technical support?

How much?
Is there a set-up fee and what does it cover?
What pricing schemes are available? Charges vary from a set charge per hour to a monthly (or even yearly) fee for unlimited connection time.
Does support cost extra?
Do you get a discount if you pay for several months or a year of service in advance? (This approach is a little risky, though.)
Does the ISP offer a service guarantee or refund policy?

Software.
Does the ISP provide the software you will need to connect to the internet? It is preferable that there is no requirement to use ISP’s software. Even though normally it wouldn’t make a big difference, sometimes this software can conflict with other applications.

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2 responses

  1. Great write up, please keep it up, I’m impressed.

    TC,
    http://naijapulse.com

  2. great, I followed it and it works

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