15 April 2022 | 6 min read

What Is an ISP? A Comprehensive Guide to Internet Service Providers 

Internet Service Providers play an important role in the world of internet. Learn what ISPs do, what responsibilities they assume and what types of connections they facilitate.

A computer, a communications tower and the internet.

An internet service provider (ISP) is a company that provides access to the internet, both for businesses and individual users. Thanks to your internet service provider, all the activities you or your company do online are a click away. Now that you have the general idea of what an ISP is, you might wonder what other services it offers.

Keep reading our comprehensive guide if you want to find out what technologies make the internet available everywhere. Whether you own a company or not, you might benefit from what internet service providers have to offer.

What does an ISP do?

Although internet service providers are normally known for supplying internet access, they often offer telecommunications services too. For instance, larger ISPs also sell television or mobile services.

Internet service providers that focus on providing access to the internet are called internet access providers (IAP) or access ISPs.

Access providers facilitate access to the internet via cables, fiber optics or other technologies. Most telephone companies function as access ISPs as well.

There are also ISPs that partner with existing service providers to resell resources. Such an internet service provider is known as virtual ISP or affinity ISP. Virtual ISPs provide users with internet services, including web hosting and domain name registration, too. 

These companies can offer more flexibility and efficiency because they don’t require a lot of resources like regular ISPs.

Usually, ISPs charge consumers a monthly fee for internet access. However, free ISPs exist as well. They provide services free of charge but might show advertisements to generate revenue. These ISPs might also limit your internet speed and how much time you can spend online.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) introduced net neutrality to ensure fair competition of businesses and accessible services to the customers. According to the net neutrality concept, ISPs cannot prioritize certain websites or services or charge more money for specific content.

In other words, all ISPs must treat all traffic equally. For example, internet service providers cannot speed up access to their websites and limit the speed to others. However, net neutrality has drawbacks, and its regulations are not applied equally around the world.

With a wide range of ISPs and their services, you might wonder what they offer besides internet access. Internet service providers, in fact, have more to put on a plate.

Roles of ISPs

Internet service providers deliver a wide array of services to their customers. Here are a few examples:

  • Internet access
  • Email access
  • Web hosting
  • Domain name registration
  • Colocation
A list of five different services provided by internet service provider.
The services that internet service providers offer

You may not necessarily use all the services ISPs can provide. 

Of course, if you decide that you need more than access to the internet, your provider might help you. Just keep in mind that each provider may offer different internet services. While one might offer web hosting, it might not offer colocation services. 

Types of ISP connections

The first internet service providers started offering access to the internet in 1989 with a dial-up connection. Later, ISPs introduced the digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable broadband options to meet the demand for faster speeds. 

Today, different types of ISP connections exist, and ISPs use various technologies to provide users with internet access. Several types include:

  • Wireless
  • Cable
  • Satellite
  • Dial-up

To choose the most appropriate internet service provider, you might want to know what connectivity methods they use. Learn more about four of them below.

Wireless ISP

Wireless internet service providers allow using the internet via a wireless connection (e.g., Wi-Fi). A wireless network uses radio waves to provide high-speed access. 

First, your computer’s adapter translates data into a radio signal and sends it via an antenna. Then, the wireless router receives the signal, decodes it and sends the information to the internet. Finally, the router receives data from the internet, translates it into a radio signal and sends it to the computer’s adapter.

A wireless ISP provides internet using a wireless connection to nearby homes.
Wireless ISP provides internet using a wireless connection

One of the significant advantages of this type of broadband internet service is that you can use the internet from anywhere. Take, for example, your smartphone that has all capabilities installed. You can access the internet on your phone at home, in a cafe or at your friend’s house.

In addition to high availability, Wi-Fi offers a reliable internet speed of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps), depending on the provider. Multiple users can connect to the same network with this speed without noticeable disruptions. You can also connect many devices to one Wi-Fi router. For instance, your laptop, tablet or printer.

Wireless internet connectivity has one more advantage. It offers easier installation with no additional wires through buildings or underground.

Cable ISP

The cable internet service uses the same infrastructure as cable TV. The basis of this infrastructure is coaxial cables. They are similar to copper wires used, for example, in Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ASDL). However, coaxial cables have different outer materials and only send the signal through the copper layer. 

In simple terms, your internet service provider transmits data to your modem that provides you with internet access. Usually, cable TV companies can offer this type of internet service.

A coaxial cables between an ISP and a home modem.
Coaxial cables facilitate cable internet access

This type of connection has low latency. Latency describes the time that passes from the moment you click on a link until you see the data on your screen. 

Low latency means you experience fewer delays and less lag time. Fewer delays translate into a smoother online experience while streaming videos or playing online games.

In terms of speed, cable connection offers upload speeds from 5 to 50 Mbps, while the download speed ranges from 10 to 500 Mbps. For small companies and individual customers, this broadband speed should be enough.

Yet, the bandwidth of a cable connection is limited because people who live in the same area and use the same network provider have to share the cable line with their neighbors. If many people use the internet simultaneously, that could alter the access speed.

Satellite ISP

The satellite ISPs offer an internet connection that uses a satellite to send an internet signal from your internet service provider to your computer. Satellite connection involves sending and receiving data from a satellite floating in space.

This process uses three satellite dishes. One is in space, one at your provider’s location and one at your property. You also have to install a modem and cables that connect your satellite dish and that modem.

Satellite ISP provides internet access using satellite dishes to a home.
Satellite ISP provides internet access using satellite dishes

Satellite speed ranges from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps, depending on the service provider. However, it is characterized by higher latency because the data travels a longer distance – to the space and back. A long data travel distance might not affect your everyday browsing experience, but online gamers might feel a more significant delay.

Although satellite internet is slower than DSL or fiber internet, satellite might be the only option in distant locations.

It might be an excellent option for those who live in remote areas since satellite broadband can reach nearly any spot on Earth. Furthermore, satellites can operate where digital subscriber line services are unavailable. For example, in the mountains. 

Dial-up ISP

This internet service enables connection to the internet through a standard telephone line. In simple terms, you have to connect the telephone line to your computer’s modem and insert the other end of the cable into the phone jack. Then, you can connect to the internet by dialing a specific access number.

A dial-up internet access uses a phone line to provide internet to a computer.
Dial-up internet access uses a phone line

This connection technology offers a download and upload speed of 0.056 Mbps. Needless to say, this is slow compared to satellite speeds or fiber optics technology.

Even though this internet connection does not offer high-speed browsing, it may be a great option in rural areas. In smaller cities or villages, broadband or other telecommunications services may not be available due to low populations or lack of infrastructure.

Dial-up access is also the cheapest type of internet access, so it might be an alternative for low-budget users, including low-income households.

Peering between ISPs

ISP peering is an exchange of data between two internet service providers. Typically, ISPs do not pay other ISPs as both parties benefit from peering equally. These agreements are called settlement-free, and access providers exchange almost an equal amount of data.

This type of data exchange has many benefits. For example, peering may improve network resiliency. If the services of one company don’t work, the company can reroute the internet traffic through appropriate peers’ networks. That ensures that internet service providers can provide customers access to the internet without interruptions.

One more advantage of peering is cost-effectiveness. An internet service provider can share its customers’ traffic with another provider without paying a third party to carry its traffic. 

Consequently, both internet service providers can save money, manage significant traffic and ensure seamless internet access to their customers.

Conclusion

The internet is an intrinsic part of our everyday lives. The internet helps develop business and personal connections, and we can hardly imagine our world without it. Undeniably, internet access providers, or ISPs, provide essential services to their customers.

Nowadays, internet use and the demand for reliable internet speed are growing. Fortunately, most ISPs can offer broadband services to provide access to fast internet to both companies and individual users.

Without sophisticated technologies, like fiber optics or satellites, you wouldn’t be able to work remotely or contact your relatives or colleagues in another part of the world. However, thanks to your internet service provider, you can enjoy smooth video calls or do business wherever you are.

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