What You Need to Know when Buying Business Internet

Does your Internet connection seem to be slowing down? Are your employees frustrated that their connection “can’t keep up?” It may be time for an upgrade.

Let’s look at Internet speed and bandwidth, the factors that affect them and how to choose business Internet that’s best for your company.

Speed versus Bandwidth

Internet speed is measured in Mbps (megabits per second) and Gbps (gigabits per second), with Gbps being much faster. Today’s Internet providers offer standard business service up to about 40 Mbps and high-speed service at 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps (or 1 Gig).

The terms “speed” and “bandwidth” are often used interchangeably but there are differences. Where speed describes how fast data uploads or downloads, bandwidth describes how much data can be transferred.

Think of bandwidth like a pipe and the water that flows through it as data. The water can flow fast or slow (that’s speed). Having more bandwidth is like using a larger pipe.

Upload and Download Speeds

On any Internet connection, upload and download speeds differ quite a bit. That’s because most of us download from servers sprinkled across the Internet. When you browse a web page, you’re downloading that data from a web server to your browser. The same applies to streaming video, audio and anything else you access on the web. The Internet is designed to optimize downloading.

To upload, you transfer data from your computer or device to a server, which might be on the Internet or at another business. When you send an email, post on Facebook or send a tweet, you’re uploading. None of that requires much speed or bandwidth. On the other hand, sending a large image file to a client requires a decent upload speed, especially if time is critical.

Factors that Affect Speed/Bandwidth

The advertised Internet speed you sign up for will be somewhat faster than the actual speed you get, but many factors are in play.

Wired networks are typically faster than wireless, and if you run a wireless network, there may be obstacles like solid doors and bookcases that the signal must travel through. Maybe your network equipment or computers’ network cards are old and limit speed, similar to sediment build-up in a pipe.

How you use your Internet connection also plays a big role. As the number of users, devices and applications sharing a single connection increases, your available bandwidth decreases. Voice over IP (VoIP) phone systems and video conferences demand some of that bandwidth while calls and meetings are underway. Cloud-based applications and HD video require another chunk.

How Much Do You Need, and What Can You Get?

A noticeably slow Internet connection just doesn’t cut it these days, but it’s a challenge to figure out how much you actually need. Consider the following when evaluating whether it’s time to upgrade:

  • The number of employees who will share the connection: Five people using the same Internet connection at the same time will result in reduced bandwidth/slower speeds than one person using it.
  • The number of devices that will share the connection: Count up the computers, mobile devices, printers, point-of-sale systems and so on that connect to the Internet. Consider both ordinary and peak usage. If your business cannot afford a slowdown during a major sale or the holidays, what must have Internet access during those times?
  • How your employees use the Internet: Emailing and light web browsing may be the norm in your business. Or you may have power users that use web-enabled applications, transfer large files and multitask daily. Make sure you can consistently meet the needs of power users.

To find out what kind of speed you’re currently using, run speed tests at ordinary and peak usage times. You should also keep track of employee complaints of slow Internet service. Does it happen only during peak times or during ordinary usage as well? This should give you some hard data to use when shopping for service.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a Household Broadband Guide aimed at consumers to help them determine how much Internet speed they need, which is also useful for small businesses with less than five devices sharing a connection. Keep in mind that the guide focuses on download speeds, not upload speeds.

Finally, high-speed 100 Mbps and 1 Gig Internet service is available only in certain locations, so check with your Internet service provider to find out what’s offered in your area.

Consider your needs today and a few years into the future when weighing high-speed Internet service offers. With 100 Mbps entering many markets and being heavily promoted, you might be able to get the upgrade without increasing your current rate. The 1 Gig service will cost more, but it may be worth it to future-proof your business.

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