Confusion over Internet Speeds

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How to choose the right internet plan for your needs.

Internet Service Providers (or ISPs) love to use buzz words to boast about the service they provide. Nearly every ISP that promotes their services will mention the fastest internet speed that they offer. You will often hear an advertisement for “Gig” speed, but what does that really mean?

“Gig” speed is most often referring to the internet service having the ability to transfer one gigabit of information per second through a connection with the internet. This could be a movie streaming to a smart TV or a computer file being sent to a cloud-based program. (If you are unsure of what “The Cloud” means, here is a good article and video that explains it well.)

This concept of sending and receiving is important when considering internet speeds. Streaming video on a computer or TV is an example of receiving data. The speed provided by an ISP to accommodate this activity is called download speed. Sending data to the cloud would therefore be using the upload speed. Knowing the difference and considering your specific needs for internet service is important in choosing the right plan.

Speed versus Bandwidth

You have likely heard the term “internet bandwidth” and perhaps it thought it was different than “internet speed.” Bandwidth actually is a more accurate term than speed when describing the rate the data travels to and from the internet. For example, think of data files like a car travelling down a highway. If you have five files that are one megabit in size travelling down a one-lane highway at a speed of one megabit per second, it would take five seconds for them to make their trip from a computer to the cloud. Take those same five files travelling down a five-lane highway at the same speed and they would arrive in one second.

Internet speeds or bandwidth describe the capacity of the connection to transfer data. It does not turbo charge your data to travel faster as much of the advertising would lead you to believe.

Understanding Upload and Download Speeds

Many internet providers will promote the fastest speed (bandwidth) they offer, but there is often much more to consider beyond this rating. For instance, one ISP may offer “Gig” speeds, but only on downloads. This service may be excellent for home use to do things like stream video, stream music, browse websites, etc. However, this same service may include uploads speeds of only 30 Mbps (Megabits per second). There are eight Megabits in one Megabyte, so with this speed, you could upload 3.5 Megabytes per second.

This limited upload speed causes problems for businesses that use the cloud extensively. For instance, if your business has a marketing department that creates high-definition videos for use in a cloud-based software application like Adobe Premier, slow upload speeds will create big problems for you. One hi-def video could be several gigabytes in size. Moving it from a computer in your office to the cloud would use all of your upload bandwidth for a long time on that 30 Mbps connection. Other connections and upload activity, like sending emails, could be nearly ground to a halt.

Physical connection type

The physical means of how your internet connection is also important. Legacy internet providers may still be delivering the signal through copper wires called coaxial cable. This cable is the same type used when cable TV was first delivered to homes in the late 70s and early 80s.

Fiber connections provide much greater bandwidth and can also be private. Private fiber means that no other internet traffic will travel on the strand of fiber besides what the customer uses. This is a huge advantage over a copper connection because it eliminates peak usage times that can slow traffic down. Have you ever noticed that you internet slows down about the time kids are getting home from school? All that streaming and online gaming can really choke a limited internet connection.

If fiber is available for your business, I highly recommend it. Fiber connections generally offer symmetrical connections. Symmetrical connections simply mean that the bandwidth is equal for both upload and download. The cost will be a little more but the benefit of time savings will pay off for you.

Other connection types are available but none measure up to the bandwidth and reliability of a fiber connection. However, 5G wireless could possibly change that once it becomes more widely available. 5G wireless is expected to eventually be able to provide speeds of as high as 10 Gbps.

Don’t forget the other factors

Internet speed is important for sure, but the actual bandwidth you achieve can be impacted by many other factors. Old network wiring, for instance, can choke your connection speed considerably. Many other factors can impact speeds too. Outdated wifi access points, routers, older network switches, and other factors can cause slower speeds.

Check your connection speed using a speed test from a website like Ookla from various devices in your business to help isolate speed issues. If you cannot determine why you are not achieving the speeds you expect, have your internet service provider test their equipment. If they prove that are providing the speeds they promised, the problem is likely somewhere else on your network. Contact an IT services company to help you determine the problems and develop a plan to solve them.

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