People often question how much internet speed they need (at work or at home). I find that most people think they need far more bandwidth than is actually necessary. Companies usually advertise high speeds ranging from 300 Mbps to 1000 Mbps, suggesting paying for a service in that range will make the user’s internet experience faster. But in reality, there are many factors that contribute to your perception of internet speed:
• Data thruput: Mbps, or megabits per second, is the speed at which data travels. This is great to know if your work requires you to send large files or stream high-quality video either direction. But it’s not accurate to use as a sole source of measuring your internet speed.
• Latency: This is the amount of time it takes your data to reach the end-point you’re working with. That may be a website, a gaming server, etc. This is a big factor in the perception of speed. This is the responsiveness of your connection.
• Your router and wireless setup: Many wireless routers that are a few years old can’t handle much more than 100-200 Mbps of speed. You also have to take into account the wireless speed available and your distance from the broadcast point. I’ve found most 2.4ghz networks perform around 30-40 Mbps on average, with a moderate signal.
• Wireless interference: If you’re around a lot of other people using a lot of other devices, you’re going to run into more and more congestion. These signals bleed over on to each other and cause interference. This reduces data thruput and increases latency. It can be a huge factor in your perceived speed.
• Your computer: This is a big one. Your internet is only as snappy as your computer. If your computer is bogged down and slow, it can reduce the actual thruput and responsiveness. Back when I used to run an IT company that did computer repair and maintenance, I found that about 60% of our calls for slow internet were actually computer issues.
So how much speed do you need, and more importantly, how much upload speed?
The FCC put forward the following internet speed tiers in its recent $2 billion Connect America Fund II auction: 10/1 Mbps, 25/3 Mbps, 100/20 Mbps and 1000/500 Mbps. Now, much to my delight, Chairman Ajit Pai is putting forward a new program called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund with another $20.4 billion committed to connecting rural America.
This will bring widespread connectivity to businesses and individuals in these areas. Meanwhile, AT&T and other large telecommunications companies are working to reduce the upload speeds. I speculate that the reason they’re doing this is so that they can use older technologies, like DSL and LTE, to deliver services, thus reducing their deployment costs. Of course, you can’t fault a company for trying to act in their best interest. But what is in your and your company’s best interest as consumers of data?
I would suggest that the answer is “more upload speed.” Older technologies based on copper and coax cables were asymmetrical due to technology limitations, which is why we have become accustomed to a 10:1 ratio — higher download speeds than upload speeds.
Instead of investing in older asymmetrical technologies, in my opinion, we should be moving toward symmetrical technologies like fixed wireless and fiber. Businesses moved to quality symmetrical connections when they became available long ago, and now business and residential applications are becoming more similar.
In the 2000s, most business and consumer internet traffic was download-based. Today, however, our needs for high capacity have changed substantially. Yes, all of the asymmetrical applications of the past still exist, but these applications are easily accounted for with a modest internet connection by today’s standards.
I believe that many new applications in use today and coming into use in the near future will use upload capacity as much, if not more, than download capacity.
Most people have smartphones, and most of us sync those phones with online services like Google. Syncing devices means waiting for massive HD files to upload, which takes a significant amount of time with asymmetrical connections.
Other devices may also be running backup services that sync to the cloud. Remote desktop, Facetime and Skype are a few other examples of services that rely as heavily on upload capability as they do download.
Cloud-based surveillance and data backup (Nest, Ring, Arlo, Carbonite, BOX.com, Google Drive, etc.) is gaining popularity very rapidly, and this technology relies nearly entirely on a substantial upload capacity to stream video to cloud servers 24 hours a day.
While funding asymmetrical circuits could fuel growth of older technology like DSL, funding symmetrical circuits could fuel growth of new, inherently symmetrical technology such as Fiber or next-generation fixed wireless.
Let’s prepare ourselves for the future instead of holding ourselves hostage to limitations of the past. I believe that symmetrical is the clear winner, for both professional and personal internet use.
That still leaves the initial question of how much total bandwidth do you need? Well, as much as you can afford is the best answer. But in reality, I can do a ton with 15 Mbps of download and 15 Mbps of upload. I can stream HD on 3-4 Mbps, and while I have not quite yet adopted 4K, I can just squeeze a 4K stream into 15 Mbps. So the issue of sooner than later is important — while balancing that against the need to future-proof your connection. I disagree with leaving parts of the country without internet while we wait to bring them 1,000 Mbps (a gigabit) of service. Let’s establish something today that has the best roadmap for growth.