Among the many things we’ve all learnt from this lockdown is the importance of a good internet connection. The internet is how we conduct all of our personal and proffesional business, and the frustration of a slow internet speed is enough to send your employees on a Michael Douglas (Falling Down) style rampage through the streets.
However, high-bandwidth connections are expensive – do you really need gigabit internet for your business? This article will try to help you understand what internet speed you need and how you can get the most for your money.
How fast is a gigabit?
Internet packages are typically sold by speed. Back in the dialup days the best you could hope for was Kbps – Kilobits per second. Today, home broadband packages are typically in the Megabits range, written as Mbps or Mb/s. One Megabit is 1000Kb.
Confusingly, an alternative measure of internet speed is Megabytes, written as MB/s. (Whose idea was that?) One Megabyte is the equivalent of 8 Megabits. Typically, we talk about file sizes in terms of Megabytes and internet speeds in Megabits. This is messy and obnoxious and probably why engineers decided to jump ahead to the invention of gigabit internet*. The fastest internet speeds currently available are measured in gigabits per second, written as Gbps. One Gigabyte is equivalent to 125MB/s or 1000Mbps. The highest speed connections achieved by anyone are now 400Gbps – but unless you’re Facebook or Google, chances are you won’t need that! With any high speed connection, that’s a lot of data moving very fast.
*This is not the reason. Clearly the vast quantity of data in the world necessitated greater internet speeds. But it’s a nice co-benefit.
Still with me? No? Who could blame you. Speed is irrelevant without context.
Putting connectivity into context
When we talk about internet speed, what we’re really talking about is capacity. How much data can you upload or download in a single second and how does that speed compare with your business needs? This table gives some idea of how internet speeds translate in real world usage:
Obviously you’re not using your office broadband to download Netflix boxsets, but put the file sizes into your business context. If only one person in your business is uploading and downloading song-size files a handful of times a day, you don’t need to invest in gigabit internet. On the other hand, more regular uploads/downloads of larger files could lead to a frustrating number of wasted minutes over the course of a day. Apart from lost productivity, you also have to consider the impact this might have on morale.
What internet speed do I need?
Determining the best speed for your company isn’t just a question of data transfers. Other considerations would be:
- How many people are accessing the internet and what are they using it for.
- Do your workforce need to work from home? (The answer is probably yes)
- Do you have more than one office with servers that need to connect?
- Do you make regular use of VoIP services?
- How regularly and how much data do you back up?
- Do you use cloud services?
- How scalable do you need your connectivity to be?
- Are you using or planning to use HPC?
- What can you afford?
All of these things have an impact on your required internet speed. The more activities you carry out online and the more people you have doing that at the same time, the greater the bandwidth you’ll be using. If you’re making or downloading a lot of video content, for example, or using computer-aided design, you need greater capacity. Necessary security tasks such as backing up can be incredibly time-consuming if your connectivity is insufficient.
And of course the more of these things you’re doing, the more your bandwidth is affected. One person downloading a 5 MB file on 32 Mbps broadband could do it in 1.25 seconds but if two people are doing the same thing at the same time, it will take twice as long. And if your company of 50 are all working at the same time, then this 5MB file will take each of them 1 minute 2.5 seconds.
Taking all these factors into account, here are some rough numbers to help you figure out the internet speed you need for your business:
My usage varies – what should I do?
The answer to this is: it depends on your provider. Broadband is typically sold as a package, so you need to choose the capacity allowance that meets your biggest need. This is where it can get expensive, since you could spend most of the month coming nowhere near that allowance.
As an internet service provider, we offer something called 95th-percentile billing, which suits those users whose bandwidth requirement is pretty steady but with occasional spikes. It basically means that 95% of your usage is within pre-set limits, but for 5% of the time you can go over those limits. This ensures you have the bandwidth to do your job without unexpected costs mounting up.
And since we’re on the subject of getting your internet from a data centre, it’s worth recapping a few of the reasons why it’s a good choice for business. Just like everything else at the data centre, connectivity customers benefit from economy of scale. Data centres have to build redundancy into every service we offer, so we use multiple internet connections from different providers to give you blended connectivity that is quick, reliable and affordable – not to mention scaleable according to your needs.
Connectivity designed for you
Every business is managing more data than ever before and that puts a strain on your internet connection. At the same time, we are more reliant on the internet than at any other time in history, so you can’t afford to be twiddling your thumbs waiting for screens to unfreeze or documents to load.
Finding the right internet speed for your business is about balancing these needs – capacity and reliability – with affordability. It’s no good shopping for business internet through a comparison website in the same way you would for a home broadband package. You need to get on the phone with internet service providers and talk to them about your business, your staff, and your data so that together you can work out the optimum package.