Table of Contents

Service Provider Training

06:06:20 Hours
30 Lectures


BGP Training

22:46:48 Hours
22 Lectures


Cisco CCIE Service Provider Training

96:02:27 Hours
242 Lectures


Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 Service Providers

What is tier in the first place? If you are dealing with Service Provider networks, you hear this term a lot. But how do we define Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 Service Providers?

I am explaining this topic in deep detail in my specialized BGP Zero to Hero course.

What should be their infrastructure to be seen as Tier 1 for example?

Which tier is bigger in scale? Which one is better for the customers to purchase a service from?

Why do Service Providers claim that they are Tier 1 or Tier 2?

Note: If you are looking for a much more detailed resource on this topic, please click here.

Let’s start with the definition first.

Tier 1 Service Provider

A network, which does not purchase transit service from any other network, and therefore peers with every other Tier 1 network to maintain global reachability. They are the biggest guys geographically, but not always from the number of customers' points of view.

Tier 2 Service Provider

A network with transit connections, customers, and some peering, but that still buys transit service from Tier 1 Providers to reach some portion of the Internet.

Tier 3 Service Provider

A stub network, typically without any transit customers, and without any peering relationships. They generally purchase transit Internet connection from Tier 2 Service Providers, sometimes even from the Tier 1 Providers as well (I know some non-profit organizations which have a transit connection from Tier 1)

Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 Service Providers

Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 Service Providers' connections and relationships

The above picture shows the general idea behind Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 Service Providers' connections and relationships.

Tier 2 Providers generally can be a peer with another Tier 2 and Tier 1 Service Providers only peer with other Tier 1.

The logic behind is actually very simple.

Tier 1 Service Providers don’t peer with Tier 2 because Tier 2 providers are potential customers of Tier 1 Service Providers. If they can be a customer and pay the money for the transit connection, why would give them peer connectivity (Peering is free, at least in theory)

Unless the customer changes their path preference with communities, service providers almost always choose customer over peering links vs. transit links.

They want to utilize the customer links because they pay for the transit service. Even though peering is free thus SPs don’t pay each other for the service, peering brings them some cost. (They need to have a connection to the IX and have a router and port in the IX).

There are just 11 or 12 Tier 1 Service Providers in the world and some Tier 2 level Service Providers always claim that they are Tier 1.

By doing it, they target to have a free peering relation with the other Tier 1 of course so they wouldn’t pay transit costs and have other Tier 2 SPs as their customers.

The same thing is valid for the Tier 3 Service Providers as well.

They might try to show them as Tier 2 to get free peering from the other Tier 2 Service Providers. But often the Service Providers put strict requirements for the peering so claiming may not help!

Last but not least, some thoughts for my more advanced readers; if an ISP is Tier 1 for IPv4, is it also Tier for IPv6?

Created by
Orhan Ergun

Orhan Ergun, CCIE/CCDE Trainer, Author of Many Networking Books, Network Design Advisor, and Cisco Champion 2019/2020/2021

He created OrhanErgun.Net 10 years ago and has been serving the IT industry with his renowned and awarded training.

Wrote many books, mostly on Network Design, joined many IETF RFCs, gave Public talks at many Forums, and mentored thousands of his students.  

Today, with his carefully selected instructors, OrhanErgun.Net is providing IT courses to tens of thousands of IT engineers. 

View profile