How fast an internet connection do I need for my business? How much bandwidth do I need? These are typical questions, often asked by small business owners. Decision-makers ought to be able to answer this question about internet speed so they do not under-equip their business, or over-spend their budget.

The internet is the lifeblood of business, it enables:

  • e-commerce
  • email
  • online research
  • eFax
  • customer interaction (social media, forums, contact forms)
  • and much more

Although everyone uses the internet, it is quite common to see businesses with an insufficient internet connection. Not many know what connection level is appropriate for their needs. How much bandwidth you need depends on what you are doing, and how many people are doing it. We have seen businesses literally brought to a stand-still by trying to do too much with too little.

Before we talk about how fast an internet speed your business needs, let’s make sure we are on the same page so you can better understand some terms and speed measurements.

Internet speeds are measured in Mbps, or megabits per second. These are related to but different than megabytes, a file size measurement which you are probably familiar with. A bit is 1/8th of a Byte, therefore if you have a 1Mbps connection, it will take (in theory) 8 seconds to transfer a 1MB (Megabyte) file. This measurement refers to the speed as well as the bandwidth. You can think of it like a multi-lane highway. You can only go so fast, and the easiest way to get more stuff from one place to another is to add more lanes. That is essentially what increasing your internet speed (bandwidth) does.

Another thing to be aware of is upload versus download speed. In most cases these will not be the same. From a technical perspective there isn’t really any difference, but you will pay a lot more to get upload bandwidth (from your building to the internet) than for download (from the internet to your building). Internet speeds are typically listed in download x upload, i.e. 3 X .384 – typical DSL speed, meaning 3 Mbps download and .384 Mbps (384 Kilobytes per second) upload. Usually you will have more download than upload speed, but some higher cost options like fiber optic cable or the older T1 and T3 technology will give you a symmetrical throughput (same upload and download speed).

Let’s compare internet connection options (speeds are in Mbps)

DSL – common speeds are 3 x .384, 3 x 3, and up to 45Mbps Download.
Cable – common business class speeds are 5 x 1, 10 x 1, 30 x 5, or 50 x 10
T1 – 1.54 x 1.54
T3 – 44.736 x 44.736
Fiber Optic Cable – any speed, but typically 10 X 10 and up

So how much do you need? The simplest way to figure this out is to consider the number of simultaneous users you will have and what they will be doing. If you have a few people occasionally looking something up online or sending an email, you can get by with much less than if you have users constantly online uploading and downloading large graphics files. I usually use the old dial-up modem speeds as a benchmark for folks that remember those days. About 48Kbps was the about fastest they went (in practice on real world lines). Those were slow connections on a good day, so you need to at least double that if you don’t want to crawl. I’d say you want a minimum of 128K per user. Now the thing to note is that rarely are you going to have everyone online “surfing” at the same time; but with smart phones, tablets, PCs and everything talking to the cloud simultaneously, there is a lot of internet connectivity that you don’t see.