Every business is an online business today. Whether you’re a corner flower market or a sophisticated digital operation with numerous employees collaborating in real time, connectivity speed is a critical question to ask when buying business internet from a service provider.
When evaluating your internet speed needs, consider your business type, data management requirements, the number of customers you serve, and how many employees need access. We’ll explore the most critical issues surrounding business bandwidth needs to help you determine the internet speed you need and what to look for in an internet service provider (ISP).
How do you measure internet speed?
Several factors measure Internet speed. The most important elements to consider are bandwidth and upload and download speeds.
What is bandwidth?
Bandwidth is an internet connection’s maximum capacity over a specific amount of time. Bandwidth is measured in megabits per second (Mbps). Eight bits of data equals one byte.
In theory, the higher the number of megabits per second, the faster the internet speed. However, other factors influence internet speed, including the number of people using the network, your office shape and size, and your business’s internet-related activities. Notably, the speed at which you upload and download files will differ (more on this below).
Bandwidth is calculated assuming that only one device is downloading or uploading files at any given time. For example, if your bandwidth is 300 Mbps, but two devices are connected to the network, each device experiences a bandwidth of 150 Mbps.
What are upload and download speeds?
Upload and download speeds are the primary factors businesses should consider when selecting an internet plan.
- Upload speeds. Upload speeds are how long it takes for data, such as a file, to be sent from your computer to another location, such as another computer or a cloud document storage system. The average recommended upload speed to complete most business tasks, such as making calls over the internet, is 5 Mbps.
- Download speeds. Download speeds are how long it takes for your computer to receive information. Every online action you take – whether you’re uploading a video or accessing a website – requires stable, fast download capabilities. Your minimum speed requirements depend on your business’s needs. Some tasks require more bandwidth than others, which may require you to work with an ISP that can deliver speeds as high as 25 Mbps.
A strong 4G LTE connection should suffice for most businesses’ uploading and downloading needs, particularly if your team is spread out over multiple locations. However, a more intensive broadband speed – 100 Mbps or higher – may be necessary if your team downloads or uploads files regularly or conducts other resource-intensive tasks.
Visit the FCC Broadband Speed Guide to help determine the download and upload business broadband speeds you need for data-intensive tasks, such as sending and receiving large files.
What are the types of internet connections?
Various business internet service types serve specific purposes and offer different speeds. The type of internet connection you have depends on your area’s infrastructure, your business location, and the internet plan you purchase.
Here are the four most popular internet categories and what you can expect in speed for each:
- DSL: DSL stands for digital subscriber line. A DSL connection runs through your landline business phone system. The average DSL download speed starts at around 6 Mbps, while the average upload speed starts at approximately 1 Mbps.
- Cable. Cable internet uses the same wiring that delivers cable television to your home. The average download speed for cable internet ranges from 10 Mbps to 500 Mbps, while the upload speeds can range from 5 Mbps to 50 Mbps. If you’re considering cable vs. DSL, note that cable is much faster, but DSL is less expensive.
- Fiber optic. Fiber-optic business internet uses fiber-optic cables instead of copper wires like its cable equivalent. Fiber-optic cables use light signals to deliver data to and from your devices. Fiber internet can support download speeds up to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps), but its more common speeds range from 150 Mbps to 500 Mbps. Upload speeds range from 65 Mbps to 100 Mbps.
- Satellite internet. Satellite internet uses radio waves to communicate with satellites in space to deliver internet connections. Download speeds can range from 12 Mbps to 150 Mbps, while upload speeds are typically around 3 Mbps.
If you’re evaluating a mobile hotspot vs. satellite internet for remote business needs, note that satellite internet is more expensive and isn’t as fast or flexible as a mobile hotspot.
How fast should your business internet be?
The average business requires at least 25 Mbps of download speed and 3 Mbps of upload speed to conduct everyday tasks like emailing, exchanging files, using cloud-based software, and videoconferencing. In fact, these speeds are the FCC’s official broadband definition minimums.
However, business internet speed requirements vary significantly between businesses, and your speed needs will likely increase as your business grows and you adopt more data-intensive processes.
Consider these factors when determining your internet speed requirements:
- What type of business do you operate?
- Do you regularly upload and download large files?
- Are your internet needs limited to sending emails and communicating with customers?
- To what extent does your business depend on fast internet speeds?
- How many employees will use the network at any given time?
Ideal internet speeds based on task
Use the following chart to get an idea of your ideal internet speeds based on the number of devices being used and the online tasks you need to perform:
Number of users/devices
Online browsing, email, and research
Downloading large files, business communications and basic business Wi-Fi use
Video streaming, numerous point-of-sale transactions and frequent file-sharing
Video conferencing, frequent cloud computing and data backups
Seamless streaming, conferencing and server hosting
Multiple servers hosted, heavy online backups and constant cloud-based computing
1,000 Mbps (1GB)
Extreme speed operations with zero interruptions
Consult your ISP if you’re still unsure how much bandwidth your business needs. Many providers offer online internet bandwidth need calculators to help you better understand your needs and options.
How do you choose a business internet provider?
To find out what ISPs are available in your area, check out the InMyArea online tool. Input your address or ZIP code to see available provider options.
When you have a good idea of your business’s internet speed needs, discuss your options with available ISPs to evaluate the best choice for your business.
Consider the following when deciding on an internet service provider:
- Speed. What is the fastest available speed at a price you can afford?
- Customer service. Will your provider help troubleshoot technical issues? Your business depends on your internet uptime, and you can’t afford to be ignored in times of trouble.
- Contracts. Will you be locked into a lengthy contract with your provider? A more flexible contact is beneficial if the provider doesn’t deliver top speeds or you find a new provider that better meets your needs.
Internet speeds may slow over time as the network ages and more people join. Run a regular speed scan on your network to ensure you’re getting the speed you pay for.
What are the best business internet service providers?
The best internet service providers offer top-quality service with optimal speeds and excellent uptime. If you’re seeking a new provider, consider the following options:
- AT&T. AT&T offers small businesses a wide selection of service plans that vary by speed and price. To learn more details about available locations and prices, read our in-depth AT&T review.
- Verizon. Verizon offers extensive service plans for businesses of all sizes. Learn about plan speeds and prices in our full Verizon review.
- Comcast Business. Comcast Business offers five service plans, all of which include a dynamic IP address and no data caps. Read our Comcast Business review for more information.
- Cox. In addition to business internet services, Cox provides midsize and enterprise organizations with hosted VoIP phone services, trunking phone services, and business television solutions. For more information, read our in-depth Cox review.
- Spectrum Business. Spectrum serves more than 9,000 ZIP codes in 43 states and offers small businesses three service plans that vary by speed and price. Read our full Spectrum Business review for more information.
Kimberlee Leonard contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.