What Internet Speed do I Need to Work from Home?


If you work from home, you might be wondering how fast your internet speed needs to be in order to do your work.

Generally, if you work at home, you will want a minimum internet speed of 1Mbps for both download and upload.

However, there are many factors that determine the internet speed you will need.  For instance, are you going to need to download large files quickly?  Will you need to use Skype for HD video calls with large groups?  These will require faster speeds.  Read on to learn more about what to consider and how to get the speed you need!

How do You Measure Internet Speed?

The internet provides communication and information to anyone connected to it.  This data is sent in “packets” over the internet, to and from your computer.  All of this data is made up of bits (short for binary digits).  A bit has two possible values: zero (no electrical charge) or one (some electrical charge).

When talking about the size of data files, remember the difference between bits (b) and bytes (B).  There are 8 bits in one byte, so 10 bytes is 10*8 = 80 bits.  4MB (four megabytes) is 4*8 = 32 Mb (thirty two megabits).

The Basics of Internet Speed

Internet speeds are often measured in Mbps, or megabits per second.  This tells you how much data you can download or upload every second.  Taken together, the size of a file and the download speed will tell you how long it takes to download the file.

A good analogy is a hose filling up a pool.  The size of the hose determines the volume of water (bandwidth, or amount of data) that can pass through per second.  A larger pool (file) will take longer to fill up (download).

Example

Your internet download speed is 4 Mbps.  This means that you can download 4 megabits per second.

If a file has a size of 3 MB (megabytes), or 3*8 = 24Mb (megabits), then it will take 24 / 4 = 6 seconds to download the file.

Download and Upload Speed

Of course, your internet speed is not measured as one number.  There are actually two different speeds to consider: one for download, and one for upload.

Download speed tells you how long it will take to download a file.  For example, downloading a PDF e-book from a website, such as Amazon.  The data is downloaded from Amazon’s website (servers) to your computer.

Upload speed tells you how long it will take to upload a file.  For example, uploading a Word document to a folder on DropBox (a cloud storage provider).  The data is uploaded from your computer to Dropbox’s website (servers).

Generally speaking, download speed will be faster than upload speed.  However, you can go for symmetrical bandwidth, which means that upload speeds will be more balanced.

As a rule, if you will mostly be downloading files to read for work, you need a higher download speed.  However, if you also upload files (such as videos you create), then you will also want high upload speeds.

How do You Improve Internet Speed?

There are many ways to improve your internet speed, if you find it lacking for your work.  You can troubleshoot some common issues, upgrade your hardware, and even opt for a different type of internet.

Common Issues

Before you go to try to improve your internet speed, make sure it is really the culprit for slow performance.  For example, if everything you do on the computer is slow, then the computer itself might be old and in need of replacement.

If you frequent only a few websites for work, then ask others at work if they experience the same slowness.  It could be that those websites have too much demand at peak hours, and can’t keep up with the requests for data.

Speaking of demands, it is possible that your internet speed is good, but taxed by too much demand.  Going back to the water analogy, think about a house with decent water pressure.

If five people try to take a shower, water the garden, fill up the pool, wash laundry, and run the dishwasher at the same time, then there is going to be a problem.

In the same way, your internet speed is like your house’s “water pressure”.  It may be adequate, but too much demand at once will slow the speed down for everyone.

For instance, if you download files for work while your wife streams movies on Netflix and your kids play online games on their computers, then you will experience sluggish download times.

This is why it is a good idea to plan ahead for your work, so that you are not downloading files when everyone else at home is trying to use the internet as well.  Barring that, you can try to improve your speed via hardware upgrades or a different medium for internet.

Hardware Upgrades

There are a few hardware upgrades you can try to improve your internet speed.

First, I will give a brief overview.  A modem brings the internet to you, whether you live in a home, apartment, or condo.  A router forwards data (in the form of packets) to your computer.  A signal booster allows you to get a stronger internet signal in areas of your house where the signal is weak.

The first step is to make sure that your modem supports the internet speeds that you need.  Next, make sure that your router also supports that speed.  If not, then the fast speed coming in from the modem will be bottlenecked by the slower router.

Then, either make sure that your office is close enough to the router, or use a signal booster to get internet from your current office location.  You can also restart the router to see if that fixes a connection problem.

One way to test internet speed in your house is to download the same large file from different rooms, and time each download.  This gives you an idea of the “slow” rooms in your home.

Finally, you can connect your computer to the router directly with an Ethernet cable, to see if that helps to improve the internet speed.

As a last resort, you can use a backup plan, like a cafe, bookstore, or coworking space, to ensure adequate internet speed.  For more information, check out my article on what to look for in a coworking space.

If you are a business owner, you can deduct these purchases against income for your business.  For more information on technology for at-home employees, check out my article on technical support for remote workers.

Remember that all of this fancy hardware won’t help you if your internet service provider (ISP) has capped your speed based on your service plan.

Internet Service Type

The internet service type is the way the data is sent along by your service provider.  From faster to slower, the types are fiber, cable, dsl, and satellite.  For more information on these types and their speeds, check out this article on highspeedinternet.com.

You can call up your internet service provider and ask if any of the faster options are available.  However, be aware that the prices will be higher for these faster speeds.  You can also shop around with other ISPs, but be aware that prices will be competitive, and are sometimes difficult to compare.

As mentioned earlier, you should think about both download and upload speed when considering the internet you need to work from home.  When you call the ISPs, be sure to ask about the following questions, for starters:

  • What are the download and upload speeds?
  • Can I get a plan with more symmetrical download and upload speeds?
  • Are there severe slowdowns during peak use hours?
  • What are the peak use hours?
  • Do you have a business plan that I can deduct for my small business?
  • Are customers “throttled” (slowed down) after using a certain amount of data each month?
  • What does the pricing look like for these different plans?

You can come up with your own follow-up questions to ask after you find answers to these questions.  It is a good idea to show that you are an informed consumer when you call to ask about pricing.

Test Your Internet Speed

You can also test your internet speed at a site like bandwidthplace.com.  You should try this at different times of day, to avoid peak hours.  Also, you can use my idea from earlier in the article: test out your speed from different rooms in the house.  This can help you to decide when and where to work, in order to avoid slow internet frustration!

What Internet Speed to I Need for My Work?

This all depends on what you will need to do for your work.  Basic email and web browsing probably will not require download speeds of more than 0.5Mbps.  You might even be able to get away with low-quality video calls at this speed.

At download speeds of 1.5Mbps, you can probably stream low-definition video and make high-definition video calls.

With download speeds of 2.0Mbps, you can make larger group video calls.

If your download speeds are 5.0Mbps and above, you can download huge files and stream high-definition video without too much trouble.

Of course, you might use services like DropBox or other cloud services, where you need to upload data.  In that case, think about the size of a file and the time you would like it to download.  Then, divide the two to find your ideal speed.

Example

Let’s say that your largest files to upload are 300MB (megabytes), which is 300*8 = 2400Mb (megabits).

Let’s also assume that you want the file to upload in 8 minutes, or 8*60 = 480 seconds.

Then your upload speed should be 2400 megabits / 480 seconds = 5Mbps.

Anything higher than this would allow you to upload a 300MB file in less than 8 minutes!

Conclusion

There are many factors to consider when trying to figure out the internet speed you need to work at home.  Hopefully, this article provided a good overview of the technical terms and how to improve your speed, without getting too far into the weeds!

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below.

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