Deciding on the right internet service for your business means evaluating both employees’ and customers’ needs. Your choice comes down to a combination of availability, budget and internet speed requirements. Generally speaking, the more data flowing through your connection, the more you should prioritize high-speed broadband access.
Even if you need to connect to the internet only to process customer payments through point-of-sale (POS) devices, the combination of speed and reliability offered by cable and fiber-optic service providers makes it worth considering the upgrade from dial-up, DSL or satellite. However, thanks in part to innovations from technology companies such as SpaceX, satellite internet could eventually offer the best option for businesses to transmit and receive data all over the world.
Here’s what you need to know about internet connection types and speeds, and how to choose the right service for your organization.
Before we explain internet service types, it’s essential to understand internet speeds and what you can accomplish at varying levels.
Anytime you hear about internet speeds, you’ll likely hear the term “broadband.” According to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) broadband deployment report, a standard broadband internet connection has a minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and a minimum upload speed of 3 Mbps. However, many businesses in small towns across rural America struggle to find reliable high-speed service.
The most recent FCC data shows that 94.4% of Americans have access to fixed broadband internet of at least 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload), but those speeds are increasingly considered insufficient by 2021 standards, as some members of Congress have argued recently.
“Going forward, we should make every effort to spend limited federal dollars on broadband networks capable of providing sufficient download and upload speeds and quality,” Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Angus King (I-ME) and Rob Portman (R-OH) wrote to the FCC and other agencies in March. “There is no reason federal funding to rural areas should not support the type of speeds used by households in typical well-served urban and suburban areas.”
It can be difficult to ascertain your business’s internet bandwidth needs. For small and midsize businesses (SMBs) with a growing reliance on video conferencing and other data-heavy activities, the current federal broadband benchmark of 25 Mbps is considered insufficient.
With so much commerce activity and communication occurring online these days, the majority of SMBs should seek out cable and fiber-optic internet connections with a minimum speed of 100 Mbps. This speed enables small teams to manage online communications and tasks without interruptions or dropped conference calls.
As a general guideline, here’s what you can expect to accomplish with an available range of internet speeds.
Dial-up internet uses a standard phone line and an external or internal modem to convert an analog signal to digital, connecting to the internet with speeds ranging between 28 kilobits per second (Kbps) and 56 Kbps. Traditional telephone companies still manage dial-up internet service across the country. Since the data moves along the same telephone landline, phone calls and internet access can’t occur simultaneously.
If you accessed the internet in the early 1990s, you probably remember the sound of dialing up as well as the incredibly slow speeds by today’s standards. While dial-up is the least expensive option, the latest U.S. household internet subscription data shows that only 0.3% of U.S. households still use dial-up to access the internet.
For business purposes, connecting to the internet through a dial-up modem is not recommended due to its exceedingly slow speeds and lack of reliability. This obsolete technology has been replaced by broadband internet.
|Dial-up internet pricing||About $10 per month for dial-up service|
|Dial-up internet speed||Up to 56 Kbps (which is considered too slow for business use)|
Research and development funding efforts are currently pouring into satellite internet, an older technology that still has the best potential to deliver high-speed, low-latency broadband to every corner of the world. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is currently deploying a low-orbit satellite internet constellation with plans to place thousands of mass-produced satellites into space. These satellites will work in combination with ground transceivers to connect anyone with clear access to the sky.
While SpaceX’s Starlink is still in its open public beta phase, connection speeds reportedly vary from 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps. The company expects to invest $10 billion to launch its fleet of satellites and install more ground stations, at which point the data speeds will improve dramatically. Even in its early-adoption phase, Starlink is an excellent option for rural businesses without access to cable or fiber-optic internet connections.
Small businesses can also find several other established satellite internet providers servicing small-town America with varying degrees of success. HughesNet and Viasat (formerly Exede) are two examples of providers offering broadband internet service at reasonable speeds to many rural areas across the country. While these service providers both have data caps at lower prices, they’re still often a better option for broadband service for many businesses that operate off the beaten path.
|Satellite internet pricing||Around $100 per month for service, plus setup and equipment fees|
|Satellite internet speed||Up to 150 Mbps (with much higher speeds expected soon)|
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) introduced the general population to broadband internet in the early 2000s and remains the only high-speed internet service option for many rural and small-town businesses and homes today.
While DSL runs through the same telephone lines as dial-up, it’s more than 100 times faster and is “always on,” unlike dial-up. DSL relies on a different frequency than dial-up, which means you can use the phone line for talk and data at the same time without interference. Considered an older technology by today’s standards, DSL is reasonably reliable and tops out at around 100 Mbps. However, most users should expect speeds of around 25 Mbps with consistency.
DSL data speeds are physically limited by the distance the phone line runs from the main distribution point. The closer you are to the main distribution point, the faster the available service will be.
|DSL internet pricing||Around $40 per month for service, plus setup and equipment fees|
|DSL internet speed||Up to 100 Mbps (however, most users should expect only 25 to 50 Mbps)|
Fixed wireless internet technology requires a directional radio antenna on both ends of the signal to send and receive data. Its speeds typically range from 5 Mbps to 20 Mbps.
Unlike most standard home and office Wi-Fi antennas, fixed wireless technology is designed for outdoor use with large broadcast towers and receivers. Several different radio antennas can better accommodate different signal distances, weather conditions and bandwidths to optimize performance.
Fixed wireless internet service is increasing in popularity for businesses operating in select small towns and rural areas outside the reach of traditional broadband services like DSL, cable and fiber optic.
|Fixed wireless internet pricing||Around $50 per month, with data limits for service|
|Fixed wireless internet speed||Up to 20 Mbps|
For retail-focused businesses with internet needs limited to customer transactions through POS systems, cellular can be an attractive and convenient option. Wireless internet performance through a cell phone may vary depending on your service provider and device, with speeds typically available at 4G and 5G levels.
The term “4G” refers to the fourth generation of cellular networks, which can reach speeds of 100 Mbps; however, the typical speed is closer to 20 Mbps. The term “5G” refers to the fifth generation of cellular networks, which can reach speeds of more than 1 Gbps, but the typical speed is closer to 70 Mbps through most major cell phone service providers. Square, Lightspeed and Clover are several of the best mobile POS systems and service solutions that work perfectly with cellular internet service for small retail businesses.
|Cellular internet pricing||Varies, but around $70 per device monthly for unlimited data plans|
|Cellular internet speed||Over 1 Gbps (however, most users should expect only 70 Mbps)|
Cable internet grew from the existing coaxial cable television infrastructure to deliver reliable high-speed internet access to homes and businesses across the country, much like DSL piggybacks off dial-up.
Referred to as a last-mile technology, cable internet systems transmit data through a modem at the customer’s physical location and a cable modem termination system located at a cable provider’s facility, often grouped into hubs for efficiency.
For the last decade, cable internet has dominated the high-speed broadband landscape. While entering the end of its dominance as the gold standard in true high-speed broadband access, cable is still a very good option for businesses operating where access to fiber is not yet available.
For daily use at SMBs, a cable connection is the ideal minimum technology requirement for sufficient download speeds up to 2,000 Mbps, with slower upload speeds. With so many different options for speed and data limits measured by the gigabyte, prices for cable internet service can vary a great deal.
|Cable internet pricing||From $35 per month to more than $500 per month for service, plus setup and equipment fees|
|Cable internet speed||Up to 2,000 Mbps|
If you’re deciding between business DSL and cable, DSL may be satisfactory if your internet needs are minimal and you don’t have any plans to expand. Cable is a better option if you use cloud software and plan to add more employees and devices to your workplace.
You may be wondering if your business should get fiber-optic internet. While satellites may be making the most headlines, today’s best internet service providers are connecting their customers to the world with data download and upload speeds up to 940 Mbps, something that only fiber-optic providers can deliver commercially.
Each fiber-optic cable houses hundreds of optical fibers made by stretching glass or plastic to a diameter that’s only 1/10 the diameter of a human hair. Each fiber can transmit data at roughly 70% the speed of light. Fiber internet signals also benefit from not being dependent on electricity, unlike the copper coaxial cables used to support cable broadband internet access.
The result is that power outages will have little or even no effect on fiber internet performance. There’s also no need to worry about electromagnetic interference from any nearby powerful electrical equipment.
While the current leading data-transmission technology is widely available in many urban centers across the country, the Fiber Broadband Association estimates that we’re on pace to deliver fiber-optic internet service to only 50% of the U.S. by 2025. It’s expected that 90% of Americans will have access to fiber-optic broadband to connect to the internet by 2029.
Google, Verizon, AT&T and Spectrum are among the companies continuously growing their fiber infrastructure across the country. Pricing for fiber is similar to cable at higher speeds and could even be less expensive than cable packages above 100 Mbps.
If you operate an internet-reliant business in an area with existing fiber internet infrastructure, especially if you need to purchase any office hardware or equipment for long-term use, a fiber-optic connection is the best choice.
|Fiber-optic internet pricing||About $60 per month for basic service, with higher prices for top speeds|
|Fiber-optic internet speed||Up to 940 Mbps|