What Is an Internet Service Provider (ISP)?

Image: Internet Service Provider Diagram

An Internet service provider (ISP) is an organization that provides services for accessing, using, or participating in the Internet. Internet service providers can be organised in various forms, such as commercial, community-owned, non-profit, or otherwise privately owned.

Internet services typically provided by ISPs can include Internet access, Internet transit, domain name registration, web hosting, Usenet service, and colocation.

An ISP typically serves as the access point or the gateway that provides a user, access to everything available on the Internet.

History


The Internet (originally ARPAnet) was developed as a network between government research laboratories and participating departments of universities. Other companies and organizations joined by direct connection to the backbone, or by arrangements through other connected companies, sometimes using dialup tools such as UUCP. By the late 1980s, a process was set in place towards public, commercial use of the Internet. Some restrictions were removed by 1991,shortly after the introduction of the World Wide Web.

During the 1980s, online service providers such as CompuServe and America On Line (AOL) began to offer limited capabilities to access the Internet, such as e-mail interchange, but full access to the Internet was not readily available to the general public.

In 1989, the first Internet service providers, companies offering the public direct access to the Internet for a monthly fee, were established in Australia and the United States. In Brookline, Massachusetts, The World became the first commercial ISP in the US. Its first customer was served in November 1989. These companies generally offered dial-up connections, using the public telephone network to provide last-mile connections to their customers. The barriers to entry for dial-up ISPs were low and many providers emerged.

However, cable television companies and the telephone carriers already had wired connections to their customers and could offer Internet connections at much higher speeds than dial-up using broadband technology such as cable modems and digital subscriber line (DSL). As a result, these companies often became the dominant ISPs in their service areas, and what was once a highly competitive ISP market became effectively a monopoly or duopoly in countries with a commercial telecommunications market, such as the United States.

In 1995, NSFNET was decommissioned removing the last restrictions on the use of the Internet to carry commercial traffic and network access points were created to allow peering arrangements between commercial ISPs.

Classifications

Access providers

Access provider ISPs provide Internet access, employing a range of technologies to connect users to their network.Available technologies have ranged from computer modems with acoustic couplers to telephone lines, to television cable (CATV), Wi-Fi, and fiber optics.

For users and small businesses, traditional options include copper wires to provide dial-up, DSL, typically asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), cable modem or Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) (typically basic rate interface). Using fiber-optics to end users is called Fiber To The Home or similar names.

Customers with more demanding requirements (such as medium-to-large businesses, or other ISPs) can use higher-speed DSL (such as single-pair high-speed digital subscriber line), Ethernet, metropolitan Ethernet, gigabit Ethernet, Frame Relay, ISDN Primary Rate Interface, ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) and synchronous optical networking (SONET).

Wireless access is another option, including cellular and satellite Internet access.

Mailbox providers

A mailbox provider is an organization that provides services for hosting electronic mail domains with access to storage for mail boxes. It provides email servers to send, receive, accept, and store email for end users or other organizations.

Many mailbox providers are also access providers, while others are not (e.g., Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Outlook.com, AOL Mail, Po box). The definition given in RFC 6650 covers email hosting services, as well as the relevant department of companies, universities, organizations, groups, and individuals that manage their mail servers themselves. The task is typically accomplished by implementing Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) and possibly providing access to messages through Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), the Post Office Protocol, Webmail, or a proprietary protocol.

Hosting ISPs

Internet hosting services provide email, web-hosting, or online storage services. Other services include virtual server, cloud services, or physical server operation.

Transit ISPs

Tiers 1 and 2 ISP interconnections
Just as their customers pay them for Internet access, ISPs themselves pay upstream ISPs for Internet access. An upstream ISP usually has a larger network than the contracting ISP or is able to provide the contracting ISP with access to parts of the Internet the contracting ISP by itself has no access to.

In the simplest case, a single connection is established to an upstream ISP and is used to transmit data to or from areas of the Internet beyond the home network; this mode of interconnection is often cascaded multiple times until reaching a tier 1 carrier. In reality, the situation is often more complex. ISPs with more than one point of presence (PoP) may have separate connections to an upstream ISP at multiple PoPs, or they may be customers of multiple upstream ISPs and may have connections to each one of them at one or more point of presence. Transit ISPs provide large amounts of bandwidth for connecting hosting ISPs and access ISPs.

Virtual ISPs

A virtual ISP (VISP) is an operation that purchases services from another ISP, sometimes called a wholesale ISP in this context, which allow the VISP’s customers to access the Internet using services and infrastructure owned and operated by the wholesale ISP. VISPs resemble mobile virtual network operators and competitive local exchange carriers for voice communications.

Free ISPs

Free ISPs are Internet service providers that provide service free of charge. Many free ISPs display advertisements while the user is connected; like commercial television, in a sense they are selling the user’s attention to the advertiser. Other free ISPs, sometimes called freenets, are run on a nonprofit basis, usually with volunteer staff.

Wireless ISP

A wireless Internet service provider (WISP) is an Internet service provider with a network based on wireless networking. Technology may include commonplace Wi-Fi wireless mesh networking, or proprietary equipment designed to operate over open 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, 4.9, 5.2, 5.4, 5.7, and 5.8 GHz bands or licensed frequencies such as 2.5 GHz (EBS/BRS), 3.65 GHz (NN) and in the UHF band (including the MMDS frequency band) and LMDS.[citation needed]

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