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How To Choose A Home Broadband Internet Service?

Very often the Internet service providers (ISP) emphasize on the broadband speed and the value add-on bundled with the package at a cheaper rate than the respective competitors.

Sometimes, comparing these package features among ISP can be headache and complicated for the novice.

In my point of view, I would suggest to keep thing simple, by primarily focusing on service reliability then followed by the cost.

In some cases, the price of the same broadband speed offered by various ISP is more or less the same (as everyone is focusing on the speed and cost at first glance).

So, now the factor to consider is simpler, i.e. service reliability. But, what is “service reliability” means exactly (to me and to you)?

1) The broadband Internet availability or uptime should meet your expectation. Generally, the higher the uptime, or the lower the downtime, is better.

2) Time taken to resolve a service interruption complaint. In reality, downtime is unavoidable, unless you’re paying the ISP a VIP rate and with a signed SLA that guarantee zero downtime. It’s OK if the customer service / call center capable to resolve interruption complaint in timely manner. If it takes days or weeks, it’s miserable!

3) Speed is important to satisfy users who find 24 hours too short to make a day. But, in my test with broadband speed advertised at 512Kbps, there is no lag or unpleasant feeling of watching YouTube, even during the so-called peak hours.

4) What is more important than the advertised broadband speed is the network latency and timeout percentage.

I am very particular on the timeout percentage, if this is higher than 1% in a continuous ping test, I am pissed off.
If you’re connecting to a HTTPS web service where the ping test to this website revealing more than 5% timeout, you’re not likely to complete the transactions with this secured site. Imagine that you’re booking a ticket in advance for cheaper rate benefit but the deal cannot be concluded in time because of too much timeout :-(.

You can easily obtain network latency and timeout percentage by using ping command to some of the URLs that you visit regularly. Try to avoid ping to Google, Yahoo, YouTube, MSN, etc, as most of the reputable websites have redundant servers at major cities around the world.

5) The ISP is likely has more than one source of submarine communications cable to access the world of Internet. Besides to serve as a backup to avoid longer downtime when submarine cable is broken (by earthquake, undersea activities, etc), it’s logical for ISP to allocate some of the home users (especially those who have exceeded maximum quota or those who subscribe the cheapest package) to slow gateways that heading to a congested submarine trunk while the better trunk is reserved for those business class users who pay higher rate than home users, but might also include new subscribers who is under cooling or money-back trial period.

How do you know you’re likely assigned to a slow gateway? You can do this by comparing the trace route (using tracert command in Windows or traceroute in Linux) or WAN IP segments of the same ISP in different venues (office, public WIFI at cafe/restaurant/commercial building, etc). [ See my previous post on how to check which ISP your neighbour or public WIFI is using. ]

Based on the trace route result, you can map the route visually with help of domaintools.com and maps.google.com.

You will notice that some WAN IP in a segment is actually accessing one route while others are using another route. Therefore, those with high network latency in ping test to a website hosted at foreign country are likely on a congested trunk (assuming the user side connection is perfect in this case).

By looking at the ping test result associated with all known WAN IP of the ISP, you know which WAN IP segment is likely to have a faster gateway to websites hosted outside your home country.

With this knowledge, you might able to impress the call center and file a successful complaint to the authority that govern ISP service level, if you find out the service is not as good as during the cooling or trial period, after committing the package’s contract :-(

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