What Internet Speed do I Need for my Business?

Spreading the Holiday Cheer
December 31, 2013
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March 12, 2014

Update 10/11/2016:

Cii is now a Google Fiber Tech Partner. We can assist businesses in the Triangle in setting up and acquiring a Google Fiber internet connection. We think this new service will provide speeds that open new doors for business in Raleigh and surrounding areas, while potentially saving them money on their internet bill.


How fast an internet connection do I need for my business? How much bandwidth do I need? These are typical questions asked by small or medium business owners. Decision-makers ought to be able to answer this question about internet speed so they don’t under-equip their business, or over-spend their budget.

The internet is the lifeblood of business, it enables:

Although everyone uses the internet, it is quite common to see businesses with an insufficient internet connection. Not many know what connection level is appropriate for their needs.  How much bandwidth you need depends on what you are doing, and how many people are doing it. We have seen businesses literally brought to a stand-still by trying to do too much with too little.

First off, we are not an Internet Service Provider (ISP); we have no particular love for any one internet provider. We just want to share useful information based on our experiences in the market.

Before we talk about how fast an internet speed your business needs, let’s make sure we are on the same page so you can better understand some terms and speed measurements.

Internet speeds are measured in Mbps, or megabits per second. These are related to but different than megabytes, a file size measurement which you are probably familiar with. A bit is 1/8th of a Byte, therefore if you have a 1Mbps connection, it will take (in theory) 8 seconds to transfer a 1MB (Megabyte) file. This measurement refers to the speed as well as the bandwidth.  You can think of it like a multi-lane highway. You can only go so fast, and the easiest way to get more stuff from one place to another is to add more lanes. That is essentially what increasing your internet speed (bandwidth) does.

Another thing to be aware of is upload versus download speed. In most cases these will not be the same. From a technical perspective there isn’t really any difference, but you will pay a lot more to get upload bandwidth (from your building to the internet) than for download (from the internet to your building). Internet speeds are typically listed in download upload, i.e. 3 X .384 – typical DSL speed, meaning 3 Mbps download and .384 Mbps (384 Kilobytes per second) upload. Usually you will have more download than upload speed, but some higher cost options like fiber optic cable or the older T1 and T3 technology will give you a symmetrical throughput (same upload and download speed).

 

Available Speeds

Let’s compare internet connection options (speeds are in Mbps)

  • DSL – common speeds are 3 x .384, 3 x 3, and up to 45Mbps Download.
  • Cable – common business class speeds are 5 x 1, 10 x 1, 30 x 5, or 50 x 10
  • T1 – 1.54 x 1.54
  • T3 – 44.736 x 44.736
  • Fiber Optic Cable – any speed, but typically 10 X 10 and up

 

So how much do you need? The simplest way to figure this out is to consider the number of simultaneous users you will have and what they will be doing. If you have a few people occasionally looking something up online or sending an email, you can get by with much less than if you have users constantly online uploading and downloading large graphics files.

I usually use the old dial-up modem speeds as a benchmark for folks that remember those days. About 48Kbps was the about fastest they went (in practice on real world lines). Those were slow connections on a good day, so you need to at least double that if you don’t want to crawl. Typically, an internet speed of 128K per user gets the job done. However, there are business types and cases where that is not enough. Now the thing to note is that rarely are you going to have everyone online “surfing” at the same time; but with smart phones, tablets, PCs and everything consuming bandwidth simultaneously, there is a lot of internet connectivity that you don’t see.

 

Options Based on Users and Speed

UsersSlow(128K/user)Decent(256K/user)Fast(512K/user)

10

1.28Mbps

2.56Mbps

5.12Mbps

15

1.92

3.84

7.68

20

2.56

5.12

10.24

30

3.84

7.68

15.36

40

5.12

10.24

20.48

50

6.4

12.8

25.6

 

These are good recommendations based on the state of the market today. However, as more services are going to the cloud and more large content like video is consumed, a typical business will need more and more bandwidth for daily operations. With that being said, I wouldn’t hesitate to get as much as 1Mbps per user if you can get it in your area.

Having a true high speed internet connection allows you to take advantage of newer solutions like cloud services, hosted email, offsite backup, remote access, etc., without impacting your other operations. This can improve efficiency, mobility, and enhance disaster recovery.

Recommendations:

  • Our experience has been that with the newest cable modem technologies, high speed cable internet is much more affordable than the other options.
  • We try to stay away from T1 lines, they are too slow for most modern businesses, and are typically very expensive.
  • Even if you have to pay for the cable company to build out to your business, when you spread the cost out over a two or three year period, the savings over T1 lines make it attractive.
  • DSL speeds are improving with technology improvements too, and can be a good option if cable isn’t available.
  • Finally the most flexible internet option is a fiber optic connection. You can pay for about any combination of speed that you want.

Update (December 29, 2015)

In our area, Google Fiber is coming and offering a very attractive level of service for businesses and consumers. If you are in an area where Google Fiber is going to be available, we definitely think that it is worth keeping an eye on. We have already seen it drive down prices for cable and DSL. Having a gigabit internet connection is something that many small businesses could only dream of just a year or two ago, but it will shortly be a reality for a growing number.

Are you looking for help setting up or managing a business IT network?

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