Whether it’s a design agency sending large files to a client or a coffee shop taking a credit card payment from a customer, every business needs to be connected to the internet. With hundreds of internet service providers (ISPs) offering thousands of deals, though, how do you choose the right one for your business?
In this article, we’ll cover the following aspects of selecting the best business internet option for you:
You could choose a residential broadband connection instead of a business one. Here’s a side-by-side look at how business and residential internet compare:
Averages 210 Mbps download and 23 Mbps upload
Up to 2 Gbps download with similar upload speeds on certain connections
Price per month
$50 to $100
Vouchers, discounts, limited-time free streaming subscriptions
Range of business-related extras, some of which are chargeable
Streaming, browsing and gaming
Multiple users with bandwidth-hungry tasks
You’ll pay less with a residential broadband connection. If a handful of you are in the office streaming music, editing documents and running a few other low-bandwidth apps, you’ll probably get by just fine.
However, there might be times when your connection seems a bit slow. That’s because residential broadband providers often choke connections to normalize speed across their user base. Although business broadband providers also do this, they do it much less. Therefore, your download speed will be much more reliable, and your upload speed may be much faster, with business broadband than with residential broadband.
These are not the only benefits of business broadband. Business ISPs offer extra features and add-ons, such as domain name registration, website creation tools, multiple email addresses with the domain name for your growing staff, security services and more.
One of the main differences between most residential ISP service plans and business ISP service plans is that business providers often offer a static IP address. Static addresses are preferable if you want to run a server, host a website or have remote access.
Although it costs more, business broadband is a better choice for most companies. One reason is that customer support levels are often superior. So if you run into a problem with your website, your email or the connection itself, the company can help you faster.
Let’s look at some of the features and considerations to help you select the right plan.
How fast you can perform a given task online sometimes makes a huge difference, so it’s important to ensure your business has the right internet speed.
Residential lines tend to offer plans with around 210 Mbps download speeds, but their upload speeds are throttled at only 23 Mbps. This kind of asymmetrical performance ratio is fairly consistent across most residential internet plans, so you make some sacrifices in service along the line.
Business internet connections can be up to 10 times faster than residential ones in both directions. That still means a big gap between upload and download speeds, but some providers now offer plans with matching (or near-matching) speeds in both directions.
Internet speed and bandwidth are not the same. Speed is how fast data can travel down an internet pipe, and bandwidth is how much data can fit into the same pipe.
To choose the right internet plan for your business, it’s important to understand the various types of internet connections.
A DSL internet connection can provide internet service over an average copper telephone line, giving you an easy entry point for your business internet service. Perfect for light usage, like file sharing and cloud backups, DSL allows you to create a local area network (LAN) that can be tailored to your business’s needs. Because of DSL’s limited bandwidth and modest speeds, it’s best for smaller businesses with only a few simultaneous connections.
Cable broadband internet service uses a coaxial cable to connect you to the web at speeds tailored to moderate to heavy activities. Online backups are faster, and file management is seamless, even with multiple simultaneous users. If your organization has upgraded to HD audio streaming or uses VoIP services for teleconferencing, cable internet is a great option.
With a fiber-optic internet line, you get the best bandwidth and the fastest solution for a business internet connection. However, because fiber-optic lines still require a lot of infrastructure to be built, there’s only 43 percent fiber coverage nationwide. If a fiber-optic business internet line is available in your area, most providers offer reliable, always-on service with blazing-fast speeds of up to 100 Gbps, although the average connection actually clocks in at around 1 Gbps. At 10 Gbps, you could transfer 1TB of data in 15 minutes or less.
If you’re in a remote area that doesn’t have access to a landline for an internet connection, you may need to use satellite internet service. Just like with satellite TV, your ISP will install a receiver dish at your work site to establish an internet connection. Because the connection quality of a satellite line depends on many factors — such as trees, the weather or even sunspots — it offers unstable service and slower transfer speeds than land-based options.
Speed gets all the attention in comparisons of internet connection types. However, you should also consider latency (delays in data transmission) and jitter (how much latency varies). These are important considerations if you have frequent video conferences, as high latency and jitter rates will lead to delayed and choppy audio.
A business ISP will usually provide a service level agreement (SLA) stating exactly which services will be provided. These contracts can cover everything from low latency and always-on connections to transfer speeds and technical support, all to help ensure your business gets exactly what it needs.
An SLA can also include how you’ll be compensated if the baseline service level isn’t met, so it’s important to choose a bundle that meets all of your needs. And while you can get a business internet plan that doesn’t require a contract, you can often get cheaper monthly rates with a multiyear package offered by most major ISPs.
A reliable connection is arguably the most important part of any business internet plan. After all, what good is fast internet if you can’t actually connect to it? Most major ISPs offer “near-perfect” uptime.
On the other hand, an unreliable internet connection can affect your transfer speeds, the number of lines it can support and more. More importantly, an unreliable line could bring your business to a complete stop, halting productivity, preventing sales and potentially damaging your customer relationships.
You might be surprised by the cost of a business internet plan, as it can range from just $45 to many hundreds of dollars a month, depending on your needs. If your business has fewer than 20 employees who need to run low-bandwidth applications, like checking email and running a point-of-sale (POS) system, you could probably find a plan with speeds up to 200 Mbps for $55 to $135 per month. [See our picks for the best POS systems.]
Businesses that engage in e-commerce or that use cloud-based software as a service should expect to pay at least $95 per month for 600 Mbps speeds. If your business handles large amounts of data via activities such as video file transfer, voice over IP (VoIP) meetings or teleconferencing, you’ll want faster plans closer to the 1,000 Mbps range, which start at around $149 per month but may be much higher.
Complex organizations with specific needs or companies with 20 or more people should contact a sales representative at any major ISP to create a customized bundle tailored to their needs.
If speed, reliability and control of your internet connection are paramount, consider a leased line. You might see it called a “dedicated line” or “private internet access.” A leased line costs a lot more but minimizes the risk of outages, major faults and associated costs.
Take these steps when you’re choosing an internet service plan for your business:
While it’s unfortunate to overpay for a service with too much speed and bandwidth, it’s arguably much worse to pick one that’s too slow and lacks the bandwidth you need.
Make sure to consider two factors when you’re determining how fast your internet connection needs to be. First, count the maximum number of devices likely to access it at any given time.
Second, determine what the people using those devices will be doing. If you and your team use cloud storage a lot, transfer large files to clients or engage in lots of video calls, you’ll need higher speed and more bandwidth.
Determine how important it is for your business to have reliable internet. If you and your staff use the internet to take customer payments, run email marketing campaigns, sell to prospects, help customers, order stock and more, a few hours of downtime will be very disruptive.
Choose an ISP with the highest guaranteed uptime and the most watertight service level agreements if you need the most dependable internet connection. This will likely cost you more, but it will be much less than the business losses resulting from prolonged downtime.
You will likely have a wide choice of ISPs in urban areas, but the selection in rural areas will be much more restricted. Many ISPs include ZIP code-based search tools on their websites so you can see whether they serve your area.
When you find the ISPs that serve your area, compare their plans. Short-list the best providers, and evaluate their internet speed, data caps, prices and contract terms. Some charge fees for equipment and setup, so try to factor those costs into your budget.
Before you register with an ISP, read reviews and testimonials from customers to find out how they rate their experience with the company, and see our picks for the best providers below. You can also check several speed-test sites to see if a potential provider matches the promises on its website.
Here are some of the best internet service providers that offer business internet packages:
As we cover in our review of Verizon Business Internet, you can choose from three broadband products:
Verizon’s Fios Business Internet topped J.D. Power’s ranking five years in a row based on customer satisfaction levels.
AT&T’s broadband internet is very fast; you can read more about the company’s services in our AT&T Business internet review.
Like Verizon, AT&T offers three main broadband services:
The company is also a J.D. Power winner in the Medium Business and Large Enterprise category.
Comcast provides a wide range of options targeted at a variety of business sizes. The company offers download speeds of 50 Mbps to 1.25 Gbps, but as you can see in our review of Comcast Business Internet, the upload speed is limited to 35 Mbps.
Comcast offers helpful add-ons, like Wi-Fi tools to create a guest network (great for hospitality establishments), 4G LTE backup and cybersecurity protection.
Offering speeds of up to 1 Gbps, Cox is a great ISP for businesses of all sizes. Our review of Cox Communications covers the company’s many included and add-on services, such as hotspots, reliable equipment, guest networks, and automatic LTE backup in case of a power outage. However, Cox provides DSL access to just 645 areas in 19 states.
As one of the country’s leading suppliers of satellite broadband, Viasat can provide coverage in 96 percent of the U.S., as we explain in our Viasat Business Internet review.
Viasat offers unlimited broadband starting at 35 Mbps for $175 per month and a series of metered plans ranging from $50 per month for 1GB of high-speed data to $400 a month for 200GB. All plans provide a 4 Mbps upload speed.
Due to the high cost and speed limitations, satellite business internet is usually a last resort.
Spectrum keeps it simple. As you can see in our review of Spectrum Business Internet, this ISP doesn’t bombard you with choices. You can have 300 Mbps for $64.99 per month, 600 Mbps for $114.99 per month or 1 Gbps for $164.99 per month.
Eduardo Vasconcellos contributed to this article.