There is no doubt that both choosing and understanding what type of internet connection you should get, who you should get it from and what commercial pricing structure should wrap around it can be both difficult to understand and navigate. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of different types of connections available, the terms you need to understand, what they mean and how they affect the connections performance.
It would be easy to think that all connections are the same and concentrate simply on the price. However, as in many products and services, price is not the only differentiator and Internet providers make compromises in order to lower the price. Failing to understand the impact of those compromises and whether they affect you could result in a connection with disappointing or inadequate performance.
In most parts of Australia, we have access to many different styles of connectivity including wireless and fixed connections with competitive providers and a confusing array of options. The NBN has promised Australia much, but unfortunately has fallen short on its original vision in many areas and this has led to a range of offers and products competing for your connectivity. The goal of this blog post is understand the terms and parameters describing performance and thus position ourselves to make an educated choice.
Internet Terms and Definitions
There are key terms that describe the various aspects of a connection’s performance. It’s necessary to understand these to be in a position to make comparisons. If you are considering a purchase, then these are the terms you’ll want to understand before you buy.
This is a commonly misunderstood term with many people wrongly thinking of bandwidth as a measurement of speed. Bandwidth is actually better thought of as a measurement of available capacity. To use a road network as an analogy, bandwidth is the number of lanes each way on the road, not the actual posted speed limit.
Bandwidth is measured in bits per second (bps) but since todays bandwidths are so large, you’ll see these with metric suffixes such as Kilobits (kbps or kb/s), Megabits (mbps or mb/s), Gigabits (gbps or gb/s) and so on. Bandwidth can also be expressed as Bytes per second and this is commonly denoted with a capital B. Remembering that there are 8 bits in a Byte, then 80mbps would by the same as 10 MBps.
Sticking with our roadway analogy, latency can be thought of as the distance you are travelling on a road between two points. Latency thus affects how long it takes for data to travel from a particular location to or from you. You should aim to have the lowest possible latency but ultimately, physical limitations of the type of transmission will place limitations on how low is actually achievable. A good example of a high latency connection would be a satellite link where the distance to and from the satellite can add significant latency.
Staying with our analogy of the road network, contention could be thought of as the number of other vehicles currently on the same road you are travelling on. On a typical consumer connection, providers will cram as many users on as possible in order to keep costs to a minimum. This can result in a traffic jam at peak use periods with subsequent decrease in performance. Business grade connections will generally offer lower contention ratios and thus better performance at peak times while an Enterprise Grade Service is generally dedicated to you. Wireless, satellite and generally anything that is referred to as ‘broadband’ are nearly always shared and thus subject to contention.
POP (Point of Presence)
A POP is a connection point between two or more networks. In the context of your internet connection, the first POP is likely the aggregation point where your provider terminates all local users’ connections. In remote localities, this can actually be a significant distance away. Your internet traffic may then need to travel from you, to the providers nearest POP and then out to the internet. For example, consider a business with two offices in one geographic area whose internet provider has a POP located in another city. Data sent from one office to the other will need to travel from the office to the POP and then back to the other office.
Internet Providers with fewer POPs will generally mean traffic needs to travel longer distances and thus have higher latency when accessing services or sending information between sites.
For single sites wanting internet access this may not matter much. However, for a multisite business with a requirement to access data between sites, the number and location of the providers’ POPs would be a key factor affecting performance.
SLA (Service Level Agreement)
A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a commitment between a service provider and the end user that defines the quality and availability of the service provided. In the case of business or enterprise connections an SLA can be accompanied by financial rebates if the service level is not maintained or achieved.
The access type is the means by which you connect to the internet. Some of the most common examples today would be:
- NBN – Fibre to the Premise (FTTP), Fibre to the Node (FTTN), Fibre to the Curve (FTTC)
- Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line( ADSL), Business Digital Subscriber Line (BDSL)
- NBN – Fixed Wireless, Satellite
- 3G, 4G soon to come 5G (G stands for Generation) Mobile Network
If you have a choice of Access types, then consider the following when selecting:
- For connections of similar performance to be shared by multiple people, consider a fixed solution before wireless.
- For a fixed service, aim for fibre. Fibre supports higher speeds than copper, has less signal loss and is not as easily affected by water and lightning. It is often actually harder to break than a copper service.
- If you are choosing a fixed wireless service, choose a land based wireless network over satellite. The latency (distance travelled) will be significantly lower. If possible, choose the latest generation network such as 4G currently, or soon 5G.
A network backbone is the overall country and global network system that interconnects a providers POPs. When choosing an internet provider, you want to understand their domestic and global network backbone. This is especially important where you have regional offices or have a requirement to send data internationally. Internet providers may share a common backbone or contract a service from a particular carrier to provide backbone capacity.
Remote locations can be particularly challenging. For example, until recently most Internet providers in Darwin relied on a single network backbone which had ONE fibre connecting it to the rest of Australia. High usage or loss of that connection would obviously have significant impact on all users.
Metered/Unmetered Data Connections
Internet plans can be classified as offering limited or unlimited data usage. On a limited plan, you may be reduced in speed, disconnected, or charged for excess data if you exceed your allocation. Different providers will surround these terms with various caveats and you should thus examine these carefully. Unlimited plans are generally more expensive, so if you don’t need a lot of data then consider a metered plan option. However, carefully examine what happens if you exceed your data allocation as excess consumption can often attract ridiculously high excess data usage charges. Mobile plans are particularly vulnerable to this.
Does Moving Between Internet Providers Make a Difference?
Now that we’ve looked at some of the key aspects that define a network connection, you can probably begin to see why not all internet services are equal and how providers fiddle their connections to offer different rates by sacrificing one parameter or another. For example, two providers could both offer an unlimited internet NBN, but one is $40 and the other $100. There will be a difference in the detail in one or all of the above specifications. The hard part is deciding if it is important in your use/context.
Understanding what you need out of a connection and understanding what you are buying is the key to enabling a meaningful comparison. So before buying an internet connection, review the various provider offerings in detail, consider this in comparison to what you need and seek some advice from your ICT Systems managers before you sign up for a connection that you may not be able to get out of without significant penalty.
Why we recommend Telstra for Enterprise Grade Internet Service
Calibre One is a Managed Service Provider to business, and we support customers all around Australia, many in remote localities. Calibre One choose to partner with Telstra and highly recommend their services. At a technical level, Telstra rate at almost the top in all areas we have considered above. They have almost three times the number of POPs than their closest competitor and their global footprint also nearly three times their closest competitor. The national Telstra network backbone has more diverse pathways, especially in regional areas, making for a significantly more redundant network. Finally, they have both the largest fibre network in Australia and the widest mobile footprint across the country.
There is no doubt that Telstra charge a premium for their connections, but armed with the above information you can hopefully begin to see why. Sometimes you may not need all this capability and a cheaper level of service may be a better option but it’s always better to make an informed decision.