A simple definition of bandwidth is the speed at which you get access to the Internet.
Businesses often find themselves using the same Internet connection that they used years before, even though technology has progressed. Their connection seems to get slower and slower. And they are left wondering why.
Good bandwidth means faster speeds when working online. At some point we’ve all had the feeling of “taking forever” to access cloud applications or download a large file from online. Or we’ve experienced latency interruptions while trying to stream a video online — when the video stops and stutters repeatedly. That can slow down your work. It wastes valuable employee time. It can lead to unhappy customers who have to wait for customer service because “the system is slow today.” If you have a voice over IP phone system, it can lead to poor call quality. Dropped calls and garbled sound can lose sales.
Do you or your employees find yourselves grumbling over slow Internet regularly? Do you find yourself wishing downloads would “go faster”? Do you feel your company’s work is being disrupted and is slower than you’d like? Then your bandwidth may not be keeping up with your current needs.
Factors That Impact Speed and Performance
What many people don’t realize is how many factors affect available bandwidth. One of the biggest factors is the number of people using your Internet connection at any given time. Ten people using the same Internet connection at the same time will result in slower speeds than one person using it.
Another way to look at it is to compare bandwidth to a sprinkler system. If you have one sprinkler attached to one pipe, the amount you can get out of that sprinkler is considerably more than what you can get out of it if you had 10 sprinklers attached to that same pipe. And if the pipe isn’t big to begin with, or if it’s old and leaking, it could slow down those sprinklers to a trickle.
Another culprit is the number of devices connected to your network. If each employee has a desktop computer, a tablet and a smartphone using WiFi, those devices may be downloading or updating apps in the background, even when you don’t think they are in use. Tablets and phones are not the only devices. Printers today connect to the Internet for updates and print jobs. Even refrigerators are now able to connect to the Internet. For each additional device turned on, it can be like having an additional person using your bandwidth.
Your speed is also affected by how you use your Internet connection. Certain applications are bandwidth hogs. Video conferences are becoming more popular, especially with customers. Desktop sharing may be necessary for remote employees. Those applications can gobble up available bandwidth. Downloading or uploading large files, like graphics files and videos, also takes more bandwidth than simple email or Web surfing. Voice over IP (VoIP) phone systems also put demands on your bandwidth. Cloud-based file sharing apps may be syncing in the background. Some of these are installed by default on employee devices and can be working at the same time as your company’s file sharing is syncing.
Do you see how quickly competing demands on bandwidth can pile up — and slow down your online work to a crawl?
Another factor is the type of Internet connection you have. Some types, such as cable and fiber optic, in general are inherently faster than DSL.
Still another factor is your equipment. When was the last time it was checked or changed? Case in point: your modem and routers. You may be one or two generations behind what’s available today on the market. For example, the latest wireless router available is 802.11 AC as opposed to older versions such as 802.11 N, G, and B. If you upgrade your router, make sure your network card is up-to-date as well. If you haven’t upgraded your equipment in years, you may not realize how limiting that old equipment can be. You may not even be getting your ISP’s advertised speed, due to equipment limitations.
What is Considered a Good Bandwidth?
That brings us to the question of what you need and what you should expect for your connection in your business. As described above, speed depends on how many people are using your Internet connection, how many devices are connected, what you’re using your connection for, and the type of connection you have.
There are a couple of ways to look at bandwidth usage. One way is to assess whether your company is a light user, moderate user or heavy user of Internet:
- A light user is a company that mainly requires Internet for purposes of email and some Web browsing.
- A moderate user is a company that tacks on uses such as cloud-based business applications, streaming video and regular file downloads.
- A heavy user is a company that layers on VoIP phone systems, business TV service, a high volume of large files being transferred, video conferencing, desktop sharing and/or multiple devices per employee.
Which level most closely describes your business’s needs?
An older rule of thumb sometimes used is to start with 5 Mbps and allow 0.5 Mbps bandwidth per employee  after that. However, that does not take into account today’s heavier demands, such as VoIP, online file sharing, HD video streaming, video conferencing and multiple devices per person and office.
“Just squeaking by” with your Internet connection is not satisfactory to most small businesses today. Also, give yourself some cushion so that you have the ability to grow.
There are more demands placed on your bandwidth today and those will grow. Websites are more image intensive. We do more sharing and moving around of files. VoIP phones, online meeting apps and video conferencing are widespread. Video has turned into HD video and soon will be at 4K resolution, placing even more demands. And we expect faster times than we did five years ago.
Today, a high speed business Internet connection can deliver 150 Mbps or more — with up to 1Gbps in certain cities — depending on providers and what is available in your area. If you have noticed slowness, you may be surprised to learn just how slow yours is. In my experience, most business owners don’t realize how fast a high-speed Internet connection can be.
They also don’t realize how their own bandwidth stacks up, or fails to. To check for yourself, visit an online speed test site. (Comcast Business has such a site when you can test your connection speed. It takes less than a minute — go here to run the test .)
The real question to ask yourself about bandwidth is: are you getting what you need in your company to be competitive in the marketplace and operate at the high performance levels you expect? If not, you may want to look at the different high-speed Internet options for businesses that are available in your area.
Bandwidth today is more affordable than ever. Ordering higher speeds is like buying in bulk. The more bandwidth you order the better the value because the cost per Mbps goes down.
Slow connection speed Internet Download  Photo via Shutterstock