One of your small business’s most vital budget lines is likely your internet bill. Internet service may be a small monthly cost relative to some of your other expenses, but modern business relies on the internet for so many everyday operations that it’s an expense worth looking at a bit more closely.
When it comes to choosing the right internet that supports your business’s specific uses, it’s all about speed. That is how providers sell it to us and honestly, it’s what we want. We want all our connections to be fast, providing instant access to vital information and services.
Here’s a guide to thinking about your needs. Take a look at how you use the internet in your business, how many users you have at once and how your needs might change as your business grows. And see which works with your bottom line.
Choosing the right internet speed
Good internet speed is relative to use. To know what the appropriate speed and service is for your business, it helps to understand what “speed” really means.
If your business is comprised of just you or a small team of employees relying on the internet for sending and receiving emails, updating your business’s social media accounts and managing bills and banking, you don’t need as robust and speedy a packageas a business that has numerous connected devices, uses multiple cloud-based applications to manage the business and relies heavily on VoIP calling and video conferencing.
Think of internet service like the water main delivering water to a house. It needs to be powerful enough to get the water to all the necessary areas of the house, but not so powerful that the faucets explode under the pressure. In a home, water may be used in multiple rooms at once, so it’s important that the main can simultaneously handle meeting the needs of the shower and washing machine without the water pressure dropping dramatically for either. Internet speed works similarly.
Of course, your internet provider won’t charge you based on your usage like the water company does. You pay for a level of internet service whether you make full use of it or not.
Broadband speed required for common business activities
Bandwidth refers to the maximum amount of data transmitted through an internet connection in a given period of time, and the speed of that transmission is measured in Mbps, or megabits per second. The internet breaks up information into small packages, or bits, and sends it piece by piece. So a speed of 1 Mbps means 1 million of these pieces of data are sent per second. While any internet connection will let you download that huge file you need, an internet plan with lower bandwidth will mean that you may be staring at the spinning wheel for a while.
The table below can help you determine the appropriate bandwidth for your business.
Source: Federal Communications Commission
Each internet-based activity you perform uses a particular number of megabits per second, and performing several tasks at once or supporting several connected devices and activities at once requires more bandwidth. To estimate your needed bandwidth, determine the number of people in your business performing each of the tasks above at any given moment, and add those numbers up.
Let’s say you’ve got one employee streaming an Ultra HD training video (25 Mbps), one downloading a large file (10 Mbps), two users logged into an HD video conference (total of 12 Mbps) and three people checking their email (total of 3 Mbps). Your office is using a minimum of 50 Mbps at that given moment. This doesn’t take into account software requirements and their drain on bandwidth.
Consider how many team members are conducting these activities simultaneously and at your busiest periods to determine how much bandwidth you need and the appropriate speed for your internet. Factor in for potential growth in the near future. The internet is your business’s lifeline, and you don’t want that lifeline falling short when you need it most.
The largest draw on bandwidth
If your typical business day involves several people with multiple devices performing several tasks online at the same time, you may experience a slowdown in some services, but the biggest draw on bandwidth is large downloads and video streaming and conferencing.
For photographers or videographers who may store images in the cloud, higher bandwidth may be necessary to handle the large download sizes that come with photos and videos.
Medical offices may be doing more telehealth appointments than ever before, placing a larger burden on their bandwidth. And if you use internet-based HR training resources to ensure your employees work safely, you could potentially have several employees completing online coursework at slow periods in the workday.
Understand fluctuations in internet speeds
Think of internet speed as a limit as opposed to a consistent rate. Your bandwidth can only allow so much data to move per second, so if lots of data is moving at once, the total data will move more slowly through the pipeline.
And if you think your uploads take longer than downloads, you’re not imaging that. That’s intentional because most high-speed internet providers realize the majority of users spend more time downloading data than uploading and prioritize downloading accordingly.
Most important, do your homework. Find out if the internet providers you’re considering impose data caps, though it’s rare in business-class internet. If they do, that could mean your speed would be cut dramatically if you exceed your data limit for the month, and that would definitely hurt your operations. If your provider does have data caps, choose a plan with the highest monthly cap at a price you can stomach.
Testing your internet speed
Before you make any decisions about a new internet plan, use these tools to better understand your current speeds and how they’re serving you.