When deciding on services for your business, one of the most important is internet from a reliable provider. The question isn’t quite as cut-and-dried as just picking a provider and internet plan, though. Internet service packages are generally priced based on speed, and your speed is dependent on your internet usage.
So how much speed does your business actually need? Read on to find out.
Start by assessing your current speed.
The first step in figuring out how much internet speed you need is determining how much you currently have. While checking your plan will tell you the maximum speed available to you, a variety of factors can affect the actual speeds your devices have access to.
A better tactic is using a tool like our internet speed test to check your real-world speeds. This free, easy-to-use tool quickly tells you how much bandwidth your device are using.
It’s also a good idea to retest regularly and calculate your average speed. Also test on different days, at different times, and under different circumstances to get a complete picture. For example, check during early morning hours and later in the afternoon, and test both on Wi-Fi and wired connections.
A wired connection is more consistent and more accurately represents the amount of bandwidth you’re getting from your provider. For that reason, even if your office typically uses a wireless connection, plug in for at least a few test runs. Getting numbers from both connection methods can also help you diagnose possible bottlenecks in your wireless network.
Consider external factors that affect your connection.
Once you’ve determined your average speed, compare those numbers to your current plan. Even though your high-speed internet package offers plenty of speed on paper, the actual day-to-day speeds you’re seeing could be less than what your business needs.
Line congestion can cause actual speeds to fall below the advertised maximum speed. That is, if a lot of users are on the network at once, it slows everyone down. Ideally, a network should be robust enough to handle that scenario (fiber networks are especially good at handling heavy traffic), but even the strongest networks can get bogged down from time to time.
The devices used could also be limiting your internet speed. For example, you could have an internet connection of 250 megabits per second (Mbps), but if your device only supports 100 Mbps, you’ll never experience the full speed available to you.
This issue can arise fairly often with older wireless equipment. Old routers and laptops may not support the newest wireless standards, and the hardware generally needs to be replaced to fix this problem. Check the manuals that came with your devices and make sure the specs match up. 802.11ac is the most common modern Wi-Fi protocol in use, with support for speeds up to 1.3 gigabits per second (Gbps), and that’s what we recommend you look for on any new router or other wireless device you purchase.
The type of internet you choose can also play a big role in the speed you experience. Cable internet can slow down when more people are online. However, fiber-optic internet provides consistently fast speeds regardless of if you’re running multiple devices. When assessing fiber optic vs cable, speed and reliability always go to fiber optic internet connections.
Other factors that can limit the speed you see include the following:
- The size and shape of your office. If you’re using Wi-Fi, walls can significantly reduce signal strength.
- Outdated software. Install any updates for operating systems, apps, and devices to reduce any lags in internet speed.
- Using a residential internet plan for your business. A business internet connection often includes additional features that can increase your speed. Businesses using residential internet rather than business-specific plans are not getting the most effective internet service for their money.
Do the math.
Now that we’ve identified current speeds and potential bottlenecks, it’s time to determine your usage and estimate what your business actually needs. While common tasks often take less internet bandwidth than you might expect, the number of users performing those tasks at the same time can quickly raise your business’s bandwidth requirements.
Use the following steps to estimate the connection speed your small business needs to function optimally:
- List all common online activities done at your business. This includes anything that requires internet access. Consider potential future tasks as well. If there’s a reasonable chance you’ll need to upload large files on a regular basis soon, factor that in.
- Use the reference list below to estimate how much bandwidth each activity requires. This should give you a good idea of how much speed common business tasks require.
- Determine how many people will be performing those tasks at one time. Then add a couple to that number, to be on the safe side. While you don’t want to pay for more internet than you need, you also want to build in a small buffer—few things kill productivity as quickly as watching a spinning loading icon.
- Multiply the number for each task in step #2 by the number you calculated in step #3. This gives you your total bandwidth for each activity.
- Add all the totals from step #4 to get a total estimated office speed requirement. Compare this number to the current speed you got from doing your speed tests. Does it seem accurate? If your internet connection feels too slow, your estimated requirement is likely higher than what you’re currently getting. If it’s not, this is a good indication you may have other issues with your network, such as outdated equipment or too small a Wi-Fi range.
Here are bandwidth estimates for common business activities:
- Basic email, 1 Mbps
- Cloud backup, 2 Mbps
- Cloud-based services, 5 Mbps
- Cloud computing, 2 Mbps
- Data transfer, 2 Mbps
- Email with attachments, 15 Mbps
- File sharing, 5 Mbps/500 Kbps
- General web browsing, 0.33 Mbps/333 Kbps
- General Wi-Fi use, 1 Mbps
- High-definition video (HD video), 4 Mbps
- Instant messaging, 5 Mbps/500 Kbps
- Online banking and bookkeeping, 2 Mbps
- Online research, 33 Mbps/333 Kbps
- Social media scheduling, 2 Mbps/200 Kbps
- Streaming a webinar, 5 Mbps (high definition video may require more)
- Streaming online training courses, 5 Mbps (high definition video may require more)
- Uploading photos, 5 Mbps
- Uploading large files, 2 Mbps
- Video conferencing, 4 Mbps
- VoIP calls, 1 Mbps/100 Kbps
- VoIP video calls, 28 Mbps
Keep in mind these are only estimates. Multiply each of these activities by the number of people in your organization who might be performing them to determine the total amount of bandwidth usage your business requires at any one time.
A good rule of thumb to allow yourself some headroom is to calculate demand with the above steps and then double it. This ensures your business is ready for busy times and that your infrastructure won’t fall apart when it’s needed most.
Learn more about business internet speeds:
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Only fiber-optic internet provides upload speeds equal to download speeds so you can share more content faster.
*Griffith, Eric. “The Fastest ISPs of 2017,” PCMag, June 2, 1027. https://www.pcmag.com/article/353936/the-fastest-isps-of-2017