If there is one nugget of truth I want to impart through this article, it’s this: most consumer-level Internet service plans are “best-effort” plans. And knowing the difference best-effort and dedicated Internet is going to save you a lot of aggravation.
So what’s the difference? When a plan is “best-effort,” it means that the advertised speed is the upper limit of what you may actually get. If you’re purchasing a 20 Mbps best-effort plan, for example, you will may occasionally reach speeds of up to 20 Mbps.
Up to. Not “minimum of,” or “at least,” and not “average speeds of.” Up to.
Best-effort plans are not bad things
A best-effort Internet connection grants us access to the Internet so we can do amazing, magical things. These plans are “best-effort” because they’re typically shared data lines amongst many customers. You share the same uplink to your Internet Service Providers as your neighbors, and as such, your upstream link fluctuates with the traffic your neighbors push over that same stream.
Imagine the neighborhood pool or park. How much swimming can you do when there are a few people there compared to when it is crowded?
For most consumers, best-effort Internet plans are a great option because they’re readily available and they fulfill the expectations of service for many: you can check email, play games online, and watch most streaming content to name just a a few generic actions. The best thing to do as a general consumer is to choose an “up to” plan that gives you enough bandwidth to do your most strenuous tasks.
If all you do is research a few things and check your email, an up to 1Mbps will be enough. If you’re more of the household that streams high-definition audio and video constantly, having access up to 10Mbps or more will serve you well.
Identify your needs, then choose a plan that works best for you.
When a “best-effort” service may fail you
Businesses and enterprises that rely on heavy data transfer for mission-critical operations typically need something better than best-effort. When your business relies on the Internet, you need reliability.
When a YouTube video fails to load at home, the average consumer has the luxury of reloading it at no risk. Now, imagine if you’re using the web to make money to put food on the table and you can’t connect for a scheduled video conference, or your mission critical files won’t upload because your neighbor is hogging all of the bandwidth.
That’s a painful situation, and you should seek other alternatives.
The solution: A “dedicated” internet plan.
The “best effort” plan is always going to be risky in a scenario where urgency of data delivery matters. In the case of critical business connectivity, the method with the most reliability would be using a “dedicated” line.
A dedicated line is exactly what it sounds like: data drawn directly between you and your ISP that is committed to you, and only you. If you have a 20 Mbps dedicated line, for example, you are receiving 20 Mbps all the time regardless of your neighbors traffic.
Consider the following scenario: It’s 8PM on a Wednesday and you are at home relaxing when you receive a call from one of your biggest clients. They are several time zones away and need your help with a deal-breaking issue right away.
No big deal. You grab your laptop and access your Virtual Private Network (VPN) into your office computer. A few tasks later, you’re on your way to fixing the issue. You send an email to the client saying “crisis averted” and you go back to your evening.
If your business’ line is a best-effort service, there’s a decent chance you will have some problems. Eight o’clock in the evening is a typical ISP rush hour and everyone is online watching Netflix, playing games, and downloading their favorite album. Do you want your biggest account in jeopardy because someone on the same data line as you is Skyping their mother or streaming the latest reality TV show?
Different plans for different needs
Dedicated high-speed internet lines typically cost more than a best effort line for obvious reasons. You are using more resources, and so it’s only fair you pay a little more. Every last byte of that pipeline is yours though, so for many it is worth every penny.
My objective here isn’t to say anything bad about best-effort plans, it’s to emphasize that the two types of Internet plans serve different needs. Whether you’re a household of four, a solo Jane or Joe, an up-and-coming startup, or a decades old enterprise, there’s going to be an Internet plan that fits your needs. Just ask your local ISP to help you decide which internet access method fits you best.