In early 2020, a study from an independent company known as BroadbandNow estimated that the number of Americans without access to stable broadband is more than 42.8 million. This is mainly because a lot of factors play into your internet connection needs and not every home is set up to double as a workplace. You will need more speed if others using the home internet are online playing games, watching Netflix, or also working from home and you will want faster speeds if you handle a lot of large files and media (like uploading video) or need to video conference.
Bandwidth is how much information in use every second, while speed is how fast that information is received or downloaded
Bandwidth is generally measured in megabits per second, written as Mbps. That’s millions of bits per second. A great analogy is to think of bandwidth as trying to drink through a straw… Drinking water through a straw is easy, you don’t need to apply much suction to quench your thirst (i.e. sending a simple email text message, requires very little bandwidth because there’s not much data). But try to drink a thick milkshake through that same straw and you might have difficulties and may need a bigger straw. (i.e. Streaming a 4K video requires a lot of bandwidth because the data files are so large.)
In our new pandemic world, it’s really been all about the video. Emails and basic web surfing consume a comparatively small amount of bandwidth. Photos, music, and games consume a bit more, but it’s video that’s the big bandwidth hog. To watch a movie streamed in 4K*, your connection will need 20Mbps. That means your connection needs to be able to send 20 million bits in one second. (*different levels of resolution require different amounts of bandwidth). Fortunately, most streaming services either let you specify the quality of video you’re watching (and, by extension, the bandwidth you use) or automatically regulate your video based on your existing bandwidth. So, you and your partner and your kids must all be online at once, and all streaming video for the requirements to change drastically.
Test your speed
More than likely, your current internet plan will allow you to work from home without too many bumps. But if you are running into interruptions like buffering or slow load times, it is worth doing a few internet speed tests from different points within your living space to see if there’s a considerable drop-off from one spot to another.
If you have crappy Wi-Fi performance, it’s usually not your ISP’s fault. Wi-Fi is all about how you’ve set up your network inside your home. So, if you notice a difference in speed in certain locations, you can try repositioning your Wi-Fi router for better coverage, adding on boosters, or even just rebooting can help strengthen your internet signal and connection. You can also try connecting computers directly to your router or network with an ethernet cable to help with congestion on the airwaves and prevent bandwidth and connection issues. A wired connection is always going to be more reliable and usually faster than a wireless connection. So, when possible, run wires.
Many types of internet service are also affected by network traffic, including cable and DSL. So, if a lot of people in the same area are on your provider’s network at the same time, you could see slower speeds in your home network. Sometimes the only things you can do to fix your internet speed disparities is to ration your internet bandwidth or upgrade to a faster connection. You could try freeing up some bandwidth by limiting non-essential internet traffic during work hours, but often that is not practical. You should periodically analyze your network speeds to see what’s happening during slowdown or connectivity loss, as well as regular usage. If you aren’t seeing the speeds you’re paying for, it may be time to call your service provider. (FYI: An online speed test will give you a good indication of overall network performance, but it won’t really help confirm that your ISP is meeting its performance claims.)
How much speed do I need?
Internet connectivity is something of a moving target. When you sign up for internet service, your ISP usually sells you a package based on the upload and download bandwidth you estimate you’ll need. The more capacity, the more expensive. The less capacity the less expensive and while your ISP may sell you a certain amount of bandwidth, they may not be able to deliver it and usually state “actual speeds vary and are not guaranteed.”
Ultimately, deciding on the internet speeds will ultimately depend on the number of devices that will simultaneously connect to your network and exactly what you want to do with your connection. If it’s just streaming and web-surfing you are after, you likely won’t need much. But if you’re looking to stream 4K video, play online games and connect multiple devices, you will need more bandwidth.
The FCC provides a set of guidelines for Mbps needed based on digital activity, generally:
- 1-2 devices – Up to 25 Mbps (Web surfing, email, social networking, moderate video)
- 3-5 devices – 50 – 100 Mbps (Online multiplayer gaming, 4K streaming)
- More than 5 devices – 150 to 200 Mbps (All of the above plus sharing large files and live streaming video)
You can also check out the FCC Broadband Speed guide to see where you fall.
If you still have questions, you can always speak with our experts. We can provide sound advice and help guide you in the right direction.
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