This review aims to give an overall rating to providers and the services they can provide. Every geographic market has different carriers and ISPs therefore they are stronger in one market than another but the intent is to help you better understand the strengths and weaknesses of various types of providers. For example a common CLEC in Northern Idaho might be XO Communications but in California Aire Spring Communications may be more common. They both offer similar types of solutions based on being a CLEC. Our review will give you the pros and cons of the different types of providers and offer a better understanding of what they can offer your business.
What are Tier 1, Tier 2 network providers?
A tier 1 provider is a carrier network that is the backbone network of the Internet. Examples would be CenturyLink, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint etc. Tier 2 networks are those that have Tier 1 connectivity but offer their own limited footprint beyond that. So for example you may have local ISP who only offers service in Idaho Falls and the surrounding area. That provider has gone out and built its only local network via wireless towers, maybe some fiber etc. but it cannot connect to the rest of the country without connectivity to a Tier 1 provider like CenturyLink. So although you may be getting connectivity from a Microserve or Qwiknet, those providers have to purchase tier 1 connectivity to get you connected to the rest of the Internet. Tier 3 providers are one more step removed from the backbone network than a tier 2. As you can imagine the more layers and providers you add the more complex the network is and the more difficult it is to troubleshoot.
Let's review some providers….
Tier 1 providers CenturyLink, AT&T, Sprint etc
Tier 1 providers like CenturyLink typically offer copper and fiber solutions. Providers like these own the copper phone network that spans the country and was built 100 years ago. They leverage that network by providing T1 lines (1.5mb), bonded T1s (up to 10.5mb) and other copper technologies like DSL. Having those right of ways from the phone network most large carriers have built out large fiber optic networks that span the country and even Internationally. Fiber Optics is the most secure, highest speed, reliable Internet option available today. In terms of offering the Tier 1 providers are the Cadillac of providers and in many cases they charge a premium for their solutions. They also have a significant investment in those networks, millions of customers to support and if you want top notch technical support you will pay for it. If you can afford it a Tier 1 provider they will offer you a single provider solution in more areas with more options and higher speeds than any other class of provider. We give them an 8 out of 10 for the most robust offerings and reliability but don't give a full 10 because of service and support. We recommend purchasing through an agent who will fill in the service gaps.
CLEC providers such as AireSpring, XO, Windstream, etc
CLEC (competitive local exchange carriers) providers like AireSpring, XO, Windstream, etc. typically offer very similar solutions to Tier 1 Carriers because in most cases they re-sell the larger carriers services under their own brand. In most cases they have their own offering as well and just use the underlying carrier for the "last mile" connecting to the carrier in the central office. CLECs are great options in areas that the larger carriers do not provide service and can offer better pricing in smaller markets where larger carriers are less competitive. CLECs also have a larger footprint because they use the Tier 1 carriers for the last mile. So if you have a location in Las Angeles and another in Sandpoint Idaho the Tier 1 provider may be aggressively priced in LA but really expensive in Sandpoint. With a CLEC they can work with both underlying providers and secure aggressive pricing in both markets blending there solution with the local carrier and offer a better price and a single provider solution. We give CLECs a 7 out of 10 for their large reach, peering arrangements with many carriers and aggressive pricing. There down side however is they do not price as well in the bigger markets and they offer a multi carrier complex network that does not always operate as smoothly as a Tier 1 provider.
Regional and Local Wireless ISPs
Regional providers like Digis, TDS, or whatever the name of your local ISP are basically a tier 2 or 3 ISP buying bandwidth from larger carriers and then offering Internet over its wireless antenna network. These type of providers are the most common in smaller markets and are typically the cheapest and worst performing of all the various providers. The good thing about these providers is they are available where no one else is and they also work well as an inexpensive backup solution. So if you just built your new office in a brand new industrial park or on the edge of town often these are the providers who can get your connected quickly and cheaply. The service is often unreliable because wireless is effected by line of sight issues, weather, other companies on the same frequency etc. Don't get me wrong they have their place and offer a worthwhile service but I wouldn't recommend them as your primary Internet unless that’s all you can get. You get what you pay for so get as much bandwidth as possible. We give them a 6 out of 10 for being widely available, inexpensive and great for DR.
City and Local Fiber Companies
In areas municipalities have built out dark fiber networks and allowed local ISPs to lease those fibers to provide service to customers. Typically your tier 2 and 3 providers will put edge routers and connect those dark fibers to build a ring to provide fiber services in addition to their wireless offerings. The good part of this solution is that it is fiber based and often inexpensive. The downside is these are not monitored carrier grade networks. Often times they are cheap low quality routers on edge and their deployed in a ring that if one customer goes down it can cause a chain reaction effecting other customers downstream. Also they are typically very limited in their reach meaning if you're in the city boundaries you probably can get service if you're in an outlying area you can't. Sometimes you get a good value with this type of solution but the performance is not as good as a Tier 1 carrier. We give these networks a 6 out of 10 for the value but keep in mind most of the time this type of provider will require the customer to pay the build out cost $5000-10,000.
Although we haven't given any provider a 10 out of 10 due to the many factors it takes to be readily available, inexpensive, reliable and provide top notch support all of these providers offer a good product if deployed for the right purpose and in the right situations. SD WAN for example might use both a Fiber connection as well as a DSL, cable or wireless connection providing fast reliability with dual carrier, dual connectivity type. From our review its clear that the major carriers still provide the best offering and highest rated connections but consider using multiple solutions by working with a 3 party consultant to get the best of both worlds.
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