This is a question I get all to often. Which Internet Service Provider (ISP) is the best? Most reliable? Fastest? Cheapest? Who is better, TELUS or Shaw? Bell or Rogers? Big ISP or smaller player? In this article I want to discuss how there’s no single answer to the question “How do I choose the best internet service provider?” and what considerations to make.
The quick and easy answer is that there is no best service provider. Most, if not all, ISPs in Canada use the best and fastest technology given the infrastructure in your area. If you live in a big city the best internet service is likely fibre optic directly to your home. Although copper systems are still players in the game we’ve been pushing the limits of copper. Meanwhile, fibre is just getting warmed up for the speeds of the future, capable of providing thousands of times faster speeds.
Look I’m not going to make you read all the way through the article to tell you the answer I give my clients. The answer I give is: Choose the provider who is willing to give you the service you need at the best price. It’s seriously as simple as that. I will be classifying 2 types of ISPs the big players and the small players. Big players have the most infrastructure, small players may have some of their own infrastructure too but don’t have to have any infrastructure to provide service.
Although Alberta and Ontario are my only first hand experience the principles apply to any big ISPs. Most small ISPs are too small to build infrastructure so they “lease the line” or pay to use the infrastructure of the big players. This means if you’re using a small ISP you might be using the big players’ infrastructure anyway. However, in rural communities the big players MAY be leasing the lines of the smaller ISPs!
The Big ISPs
For the purpose of this article I will be comparing the 4 main ISPs here in Canada: TELUS, Bell, Shaw and Rogers. In Western Canada the 2 big players are TELUS and Shaw, although Rogers has just shown up in Alberta. In Ontario and Eastern Canada, as far as I know, TELUS and Shaw don’t operate for internet services. This article discusses hardwired internet such as Coax, DSL or Fibre but cellular internet is an option all providers do Canada wide. With the promise of 5G speeds these types of connections could one day compete with wired internet. However, if you live in a rural community 5G may not be coming for quite some time, so don’t hold your breath if you live far from a major city.
There are so many smaller ISPs to choose from I couldn’t possibly cover them all. The ones I have experience with are Xplorenet, TekSavvy, CCI and Cogeco. Just note these may not be the best providers, but to my knowledge they seem to be the most used and so I am familiar with these services. Again these guys may have small parts of their own infrastructure in certain communities and they may actually lease the line to the big players, everyone can share infrastructure.
Factors to Consider
This is personally MY most important factor when choosing the best internet service! Why? Allow me to explain… Internet technology is constantly improving and all these competitors offer the same speeds, the same support, the same services and almost the same reliability. The only thing that changes is THIS month Bell might have the best deal, but next month Rogers does. They all offer deals, sometimes at the same time sometimes at different times. Who gets my business all comes down to who wants my signature the most by offering the best deals. Continue reading for my tips on getting the best internet prices.
Speed is likely one of the most import factors in choosing the best internet service for you. So what do you need? Well that depends on how many people are in your home/business and what you’re doing with your internet. Before we go into speed we need to explain a bit about what some of those confusing terms mean.
Download speed is the speed at which you can get things FROM the internet. This would be things like streaming from Netflix or Spotify. These services can require a bit of speed so you might want to make sure you have enough if you are going to be doing a lot of this. Checking email and getting search results is also impacted by download speed, however, they don’t necessarily need nearly as high of a speed.
Ok, so 90% of you will never need to worry about upload speed. As you’ve probably guessed upload speed is the opposite of download speed. So if download speed is the speed at which you get data FROM the internet upload speed is how fast you can put things ONTO the internet. Things like uploading a picture to Facebook, sending an email or posting a new TikTok. It may sound like these things would require a decent upload speed but it really doesn’t have a huge impact. So when is your upload speed is HIGHLY important? Remember, I said 90% will never need to worry about it, so what do the other 10% need it for?
I personally consider upload speed important for 3 major reasons:
- I have a 4K CCTV camera system at home. With good upload speed I can view all 4 cameras at max quality
- I stream live video my DJ sessions every Friday and Saturday night. Slow upload could cause lag for my viewers
- I have a Plex server at home with my movies and TV shows that I like to stream from outside my house.
These types of activities are what I would consider high upload activities. If you plan on doing these types of things you need to consider upload speed. If you plan on doing things like this you’ll probably want to at least come close to matching your upload and download speeds.
Do yourself a favour get unlimited data. Most home internet providers do this. In fact I don’t think any of the big companies offer data caps anymore, unless you go with their cheapest package. Try to avoid data caps, unless you KNOW how much data you need. Even then, double that number to get the minimum you should have. Not all small ISPs have this option so if you’re going to be a data hog, ensure they have unlimited.
Although I say I’m only concerned about price and speed this really only applies to the big ISPs. Again the big ISPs have very similar reliability issues. The time it really matters is with the smaller ISPs. Unfortunately reliability may differ from area to area. So you can’t measure how reliable one ISP is going to be in your area based on what your friends 50KM away said about them. Ask your closest neighbours what they think about their ISPs reliability. In summary, reliability is only a factor when it’s horrible. Just ensure reliability isn’t horrible so you can consider the other factors.
Remember we have fibre line all across this country, even if you live in an area where there’s no fibre coming into your home, there’s likely fibre coming to your community. This being said if you live in an area with fibre connection I recommend you get that. This is because a fibre internet connection will be the only options for getting future internet speeds. However if the provider you’re looking at is offering the same speeds for a lower price on copper I would go for that option.
In some areas you may be limited to DSL, wireless or other older technologies. We’re on the cusp of 5G so if you go cellular try to find hardware that will support both LTE and 5G. This way when 5G is available in your area you might see faster speeds or just need to call your ISP to get those higher speeds.
Customer Service and Tech Support
If these things are incredibly important to you I’m afraid to say you may be disappointed. Let’s face it everyone who’s owned internet for over a year from one of the big ISPs will know what a pain it can be to call for support. If it’s a widespread issue you could be on hold for 2 hours or more. When you finally do get through they say “We know there’s an issue and are working as quickly as possible to resolve it.” This is why I say price and speed are the best ways to choose your internet service provider. They all suck the same when it comes to customer service and tech support.
If this is much more important than the quality of your connection perhaps a smaller ISP is your best bet. Not all of them are good, but unlike the big ISPs at least not all of them are bad. Also depending on where you live in comparison to the smaller ISPs’ offices you may actually get better internet and customer service!
Choosing the Right Service for You
Great, now you understand some of the concepts, lets get into the meat and potatoes of this article. I have a table below to help you decide which speeds are needed for your family or business. Remember that the way internet speeds work is you need to split the speed between everyone. If you have 4 people using the internet roughly equally each person gets 1/4 of the total bandwidth. Although often children will typically use more than double what their parents use. So get enough to split for everyone.
In the table below you can see what you can do given the speed you have. Keep in mind your internet speed is usually a max speed. Splitting doesn’t only happen at the household level it works on a community level too. So if everyone on your neighbourhood is using the internet at once your home’s speed will drop. When reading these values remember I have taken the theoretical max speeds and simply divided it by what these services typically use. This chart will give you an idea of all the things you can do. On one side you can see the maximums and on the other I have typical scenarios to give you a good idea.
Electrical Contractor with 2 Employees
Basic Search & Email Usage. Owner want’s to stream his cameras from his phone but doesn’t mind low quality stream and only watching one camera at a time. The employees could stream Spotify in the background on low quality without impacting the employees’ ability to work online.
2 Parents and a 7 year old kid
The kid is often on YouTube but the parents only really use it to listen to music on their smart speakers and basic searches and checking email. They watch a family movie or TV show on Netflix every night. At family functions no one asks for the Wi-Fi password because they all know their cellular data is going to be better.
This 30-something year old is your run-of-the-mill influencer. When he’s not live streaming he listens to talk radio on his smart speakers, watches YouTube videos titled “How to Make $1 Million Online” and spends way too much time scrolling through TikTok, all at the same time. But he wants everything to be snappy and load quickly. Even though he still sits through those ads so he doesn’t have to pay for any premium services.
Small Videography Team of 8 Employees
This team might get by with this speed. If multiple people are trying to upload and download 4K content at the same time they’ll experience slowdowns. Most of their work is offline, editing videos for weddings and marketing videos for small companies so this speed is just enough. I do ALWAYS recommend businesses like this get the best internet available at the time.
1000 Mbps (1 Gigabit)
Family with 2 Teenagers
Dad’s constantly online, remotely connected to the office, on Zoom calls and streaming the sports game on his TV. Mom’s getting her online shopping done and listening to her favourite playlist. The teenage son is on video calls with his girlfriend for hours every day. Daughter is a highly talented video gamer who streams her video games to her 1 million followers. This family needs their data!
How to Get the Best Prices
Remember you’re the customer, you have all the power. Just like shopping around for insurance or financing don’t just jump at the first offer you get. Most people make this mistake and end up overpaying for their service. I have a 4 step solution for ensuring you get the best possible price.
- Use the knowledge you’ve learned to figure out what speed you need.
- Get quotes from ALL the big ISPs in your area. Ask about any promotions or deals they have going on.
- Once you get the lowest price bring it to their competitors and ask them to beat it.
- Take the best offer, sometimes the companies will fight each other for your business.
These steps don’t only apply to new subscribers. If your contract is coming up for renewal and you had a promotional deal and all of a sudden your ISP decides they don’t want to give you a deal shop around first and see what the competition offers. Again most of the big internet service providers are the same, so there is no one that stands out as best. However, if your experience had been different than mine and you’re loyal to them you can still shop around for pricing and use your loyalty to try and get a better deal.
Comparison of the ISPs
Now I have said the ISPs are all very similar, and that’s still true. For this whole article I have been focusing on their similarities. So what are the differences then? The internet is the same no matter who your provider is. What’s different is the brand and the values of these companies. Not only that but maybe you aren’t choosing your provider because of their internet but rather their cable and mobile services and the internet bundle just makes sense. Well all providers have their pros and cons. Let’s dig in to help you answer the question of which is the best internet service provider for you!
I’m personally on TELUS right now, they have incredibly fast speeds and can get fibre directly to the modem. As of writing this they have max speeds of 1.5 Gigabit/second in some areas! This is incredibly fast and is achieved using Fiber to the Home (FTTH) technology. My package also includes 5 free channles for their optic TV app. I’m not a heavy TV watcher so this is actually perfect for me.
Unfortunately I haven’t used Shaw internet at my home yet, however, I’ve had many clients who do have Shaw and I get to play with it. Most of what I’m telling you is first hand experience from my clients.
I also have personal experience with Bell. Like TELUS, Bell also has a max speed of 1.5 Gbps in some areas, also using FTTH. Bell has some amazing features. I also had a PVR cable box and with the PVR you can restart a show even if it was on hours ago. I found restart wasn’t available on all networks such as CNN and Fox. Also if you rewind a show and want to fast forward through the commercials you might not be able to. At least these were the limitations I found back in 2019, there’s a chance they changed those things. The service was great however as with most providers getting support was a struggle.
Before Rogers Ignite internet was a thing I would always say that Rogers is known for it’s sports packages. While that’s still technically true the Ignite system posed an issue for some of my clients. Some clients had those Budweiser lights or sports score notifications on their phone. Because Ignite TV is internet based my client’s noticed they would get the notification from their light or phone before seeing their team score on TV. For some this may actually be a benefit, never miss another goal. Again, the last time I serviced one of these systems was in 2020 before the pandemic, so it could have been addressed by now. Just be aware, however, I still say sports fans who plan on getting cable TV should consider Rogers.
This is a local Edmonton internet service provider who I work with. They provide business internet and can be found here.
Most of the time we don’t have a choice, we need internet pretty much anywhere we are. Service amongst the big providers is fairly similar, figure out what you need and try to negotiate the best price. If you have any specific questions about which internet service you need feel free to call toll free 1.855.9.MANCINO for advice.