Work From Anywhere - How Much Bandwidth Do You Need?
How do I decide the right internet connection to ensure employees can get work done seamlessly
Over the last year, when talking to large enterprises about employee experience management, one question has come up consistently, “How do I decide the right internet connection to ensure employees can get work done seamlessly?”
Although we are well into the “work from anywhere” world, employee experience management is still something that companies are struggling with. Most employees continue to work remotely and are often moving to new places. User experience can vary greatly depending on where the employee is located, the ISP they use, and other factors – which makes the question above a hard one to answer.
I’ve worked in a wide range of different network environments, as well as gained insights from customers that have helped me consider how best to respond to the issue of internet connections and bandwidth. While I am going to share my thoughts here, it’s important to note that this post is intended for general internet users, such as remote workers doing common work like teleconferencing, and is less focused on bandwidth-intensive users, such as competitive gamers.
My Experience As a Remote Employee
A few years ago, I was living in Philadelphia enjoying Verizon Fios 200 Mbps internet. On normal days, when it was just me working at home with a couple of other people in the house, the service was more than good enough.
As a musician who played with some bands at the time, we would occasionally offer bands on tour a place to stay. This resulted in me ending up with a full house (don’t worry – I was the owner, so the landlord was okay with it). The service held up pretty well and we never noticed any issues, even with so many people watching shows, gaming, and browsing social media.
When my contract ended, Verizon told me that extending my service would cost more than upgrading to a Gigabit connection with 5x the bandwidth. After thinking hard about that tough choice, I went with a cheaper, better service. It felt like going from a blank white canvas to the white room in the Matrix!
About a year before the pandemic, my family decided to move to a rural area close to Seattle. The internet options were very limited: Century Link, HughesNet, or a mobile carrier. For various reasons, we couldn’t go with the first two options, so we explored mobile carriers.
My existing mobile service was Google Fi. It worked well, since the service was essentially a broker to T-Mobile (which we learned quickly had the best coverage in the area). However, Fi didn’t have great options for data. Considering I would be doing teleconferencing for work, I quickly found that the throttling at my data caps made things impossible.
Being a loyal Verizon customer, I tested out their service and found that data limiting wouldn’t be a problem, but the coverage in my area didn’t work well. Ultimately, we decided to go with T-Mobile. Surprisingly, this gave us a hotspot line with unlimited data and no throttling! We hooked that up to a fancy mobile hotspot my wife calls “the crab.”
I often use the Catchpoint User Experience app – included as part of the Endpoint Monitoring product – to check how my bandwidth is doing. I can also quickly see if there are any other issues in my network. Here is a test run while my wife is on a Zoom training.
Considering the switch from possibly the best internet available to the best I could find for my circumstances, it took some getting used to and a bit of work to figure out how to get the optimal experience.
What Bandwidth Is Acceptable For Work (Or Other Online Activities)
Thanks for bearing with me on my life story...now the interesting part. Given that my service is delivered over 4G cellular, the results can vary, so I (and my lovely wife) am very aware of when bandwidth gets in my way (or when we get in each other’s way).
Our bandwidth truly is right on the cusp of what is acceptable for work. When my bandwidth is around 3 Mbps or higher download and upload speed, I can enjoy Zoom and Teams calls with minimal issues…and maybe sometimes it’s just bad enough to have a way out of family Zoom calls that go on too long! Similarly, we can stream shows without yelling at a spinning wheel most of the time. When we do experience problems, it is typically once we get around 1 Mbps. Anything lower is a bad time.
Of course, not all networks have such variance in bandwidth. However, in almost every place I’ve lived (and I’ve moved around a lot), I’ve dealt with varying bandwidth despite provider agreements promising higher minimum service levels.
I typically see the most consistency in the suburbs while using major ISPs. In NYC and San Francisco, I noticed significant changes in bandwidth based on time of day due to congestion (too many neighbors streaming after work, similar to our article about mobile network congestion in cities).
In Brooklyn, using Catchpoint data and traceroutes, I was able to convince Comcast to add more capacity to our building. The building had shared a line with too many neighbors, making the service unusable at peak usage times. At the same time, it is rare for an ISP to be so proactive. I got lucky in that case.
A Little Extra Bandwidth Is Necessary
Since dealing with drastic shifts (50% or more) in bandwidth should be expected, I personally wouldn’t recommend anyone move to a new location with internet speeds lower than 20 Mbps per person on the network. This is particularly relevant if each individual involved uses the internet regularly and at overlapping times.
While 10 Mbps per person typically should be sufficient, doubling the bandwidth allows extra space for periods of degraded service. It really is worth investing in extra capacity (if available)to avoid any hassle and frustration.
While I’ve made my new low bandwidth lifework for me, I’m looking forward to getting Starlink satellite internet this Fall. Hopefully, the added satellites will help reduce the problems people have posted about regarding trees impacting the signal quality. Wish me luck!
Download this report from Gartner to learn more about monitoring and troubleshooting remote worker's application performance.