What internet speed do I need for my business?

Unless you have hard data on your organisation’s usage, it can be tricky to work out what internet speed (or bandwidth) you actually need. Top-of-the-range services can be costly and are not always necessary however, trying to do too much with too little capacity can seriously hamper productivity.

Why you should choose FTTC internet

Learn how to estimate what internet speed you require, so that you can shop smarter for this essential service.  

Getting to grips with the terminology

Before you start looking around, it’s worth spending a few minutes familiarising yourself with the terms that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) use to describe their services. For example:

Mbps (megabits per second) – Megabits are related to, but not the same as megabytes (which we use to describe file size). A bit is one eighth of a byte, so it would take an estimated eight seconds to transfer a 1MB file using a 1Mbps internet connection.

Gbps (gigabits per second) – the equivalent of 1,000Mbps.

Speed and bandwidth – These terms are often used interchangeably, which can cause confusion. Think of bandwidth like the pipes that supply water to your house and take it away again. The water can only flow at a certain speed, but to enable more water to flow through you could widen the pipes. The wider the pipe, the more water can flow through at once. This is what we mean by ‘increasing speed/bandwidth’ – the rate of data transfer is the same but more data can be transferred simultaneously, meaning less waiting time for you when you’re downloading or uploading.

Download speed and upload speed – When researching internet services, you may see speeds advertised in the format download/upload (e.g. up to 100Mbps/15Mbps) or download x upload (e.g. up to 100Mbps x 15Mbps). More commonly, ISPs will only include download speed in the headlines and you’ll have to check the small print for upload speed. Usually, the download speed offered is much greater than upload speed – particularly in the case of residential broadband. Greater upload speeds cost more and are associated with internet services that are specifically aimed at business users; these sometimes offer a symmetrical connection, whereby upload speed is equal to download speed. In reality, speeds vary from the advertised measurements depending on a number of factors – such as your computer, how far you are from your ISP, your access method, other simultaneous users and so on.

How to work out what internet speed you need

When it comes to estimating the right internet speed for your business, there are two fundamental questions to consider: the number of users in your organisation, and what they are using the internet for.

If you have just a handful of office-based staff using their connection for email and for browsing websites, you can probably get away with lower speeds. If you have a larger team – or employees who need to send and receive large files, join video or audio conferences, access cloud-based applications, back up data remotely or use hosted solutions like VoIP – you’ll need to consider services that provide a more robust connection.

Additional things to consider include:

  • Will you need to scale speed/bandwidth up or down as demand fluctuates (e.g. to account for seasonality or peak periods)?
  • Do you need a symmetrical connection so that you can upload as fast as you download (e.g. for remote data backup)?
  • Do you need a service that offers unlimited usage or downloads?
  • Do your employees use tablets and smartphones regularly, or do they connect to your network from home or out in the field? Remote connections and mobile devices consume a lot of bandwidth simultaneously and you’ll need to account for that in your estimate.
  • Will you be using a cloud phone system? Here is a guide to the number of phones certain bandwidth can support.

Last but not least, have a think about where you plan to be in the not-too-distant future. Neilsen’s Law of Internet Bandwidth states that a user’s connection speed grows by 50% each year, so if you are planning on signing up to a 2 year contract you’ll need to check that speeds will still be sufficient at the end of that period. 

Run a speed test

To find out the speed of your existing internet connection run our free speed test. Knowing what speed you’re working with now will help you decide what speed your new connection should be.

If in doubt, ask a teacher

With no historical data of your own, it can be useful to learn from other organisations that have a parallel need. Research conducted for the education sector in 2012 concluded that schools using online learning platforms required an internet speed of 100 Mbps for every 1000 users. Because school pupils and students tend to use the internet in a similar way to employees, this formula can also be applied to SME businesses.

However, the pace of change in the way we use online services is rapid: the use of mobile technology, cloud-based services and ever-increasing file size means that demand for bandwidth that can handle multiple simultaneous connections is on a steep curve. By 2018 it is expected that requirements will rise to 1Gbps for every 1000 users (or 1Mbps per user).

If this kind of speed is available in your area, it’s worth aiming for now – or at least in the next couple of years. Higher connection speeds mean access to newer technology like cloud services, hosted email, remote working, offsite backup and VoIP telephony – all of which will help your business grow, evolve and keep pace with the competition.

Further advice

If you’re still wondering what internet speed you need, call us on 0345 557 6100.

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