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What speed internet do you need to work from home?

Your company has decided that you are the proud new owner of a home office. Now what? Your first order of business is to decide where that shiny new home office will go. But contrary to what you might be thinking, the prime location for your new home office isn't necessarily that spare room on the top floor that you've been using as storage space. Your first concern should be finding a location in your home that offers the most reliable WiFi connection. Additionally, you need to have a strategy in place to ensure that you have the bandwidth needed to work unencumbered by issues such as slow page loads and excessive buffering.

If you've never had to depend on your home internet for a living, you’re probably wondering what internet speed you need to work from home. While the precise answer to that question depends on the nature of your work, it is fairly simple to get a quick ballpark number. For instance, if you want to be able to listen to music, partake in video conference calls, download large files, browse the internet, and access your email, 20 Mbps should be plenty fast enough. However, there are numerous other factors that contribute to the speed you may actually need in a practical, real-life work-from-home situation.

What is internet speed?

Without getting too technical, internet speed is simply the rate at which your internet connection delivers data to your home network. Currently, this is expressed as megabits per second (Mbps). If the speed of your Internet service is 20 Mbps, under optimum conditions, that means you can download 20 megabits of data in one second. To give you an idea of what that looks like, with a speed of 20 Mbps, it would take approximately five minutes to download an entire standard definition movie to your computer. If you had a speed of 100 Mbps, it would only take about one minute. If, however, you wanted to download that same movie in high definition at the 20 Mbps speed, it would take nearly a half-hour. At 100 Mbps, it would be closer to six minutes.

Everything that you do on the internet, including working from home, involves downloading (or uploading) megabits of data. The higher your internet speed is, the faster you can download (or upload) files, and the more efficiently you can work.

Unfortunately, the maximum internet speed (as stated by your service provider) is probably not the speed you will actually have. That rate is the speed that is possible under ideal circumstances.

What affects my internet speed?

The internet is just like any other transportation system: The more crowded it is, the longer it will take to get from point A to point B. If you've ever tried to send a text at midnight on New Year's Eve and were unable, that is an example of a system being overloaded. With regard to your work-from-home situation, you will likely notice that the internet is significantly faster or slower during different periods of the day. In the morning, for instance, you might be able to zip around, but once that dreaded lunch hour arrives, each activity can take a few seconds longer. Those few seconds add up, making your previously lightning-quick connection feel a little more like molasses. This doesn't mean that there's something wrong with your internet connection, it just means that more of your neighbors jumped online as the day progressed.

After the internet enters your home (via your modem), there are a number of other factors — most of which, thankfully, are within your ability to control — that can further limit your internet speed.

Each device that is connected to your home network consumes a different amount of data. Online gaming, for instance, can eat up a tremendous amount of bandwidth, while sending a text requires next to nothing. If you’re connecting your laptop to your home network using WiFi, then distance will be a factor as well. That’s why that spare bedroom on the top floor might not be the best option — the WiFi signal may be too weak.

One last factor you must consider is whether your company will require you to have a wired connection. In certain situations where security is a priority, you may need to physically plug your computer in using an Ethernet cable. This is yet another reason why that far-away room upstairs might not be the best location to set up your home office.

How can I find out what my internet speed is?

If you want to quickly learn what your internet speed is right now, it's easy. Nearly every major service provider, as well as a number of independent companies and organizations, offer an online speed test. For most tests, it’s as easy as navigating to a website, clicking a button, and waiting about a minute for results. The three main internet speed tests are a download speed test, an upload speed test, and a ping test.

Download speed test

As it sounds, this test determines how fast your connection can download data to your computer. Since data is downloaded every time you perform an action online, this test is vital. If you have a slow download speed, you may experience such nuisances as buffering during online meetings or tediously slow browser speeds. When an internet service provider advertises its speed, it is the download speed it’s advertising.

Upload speed test

This test lets you know how quickly you can upload a file to the internet. For most service providers, the upload speed is drastically slower than the download speed. This is why you can download an entire movie in a just few minutes, but it could take an hour to upload a short video to YouTube. For the average user, upload speeds are not nearly as important as download speeds. However, if your work-from-home situation requires you to upload a large number of files each day, you will want a plan that features faster upload speeds.

Ping test

Unless you’re an avid gamer, a ping test is not all that essential — which is why some speed tests only check download and upload speeds. The ping test determines how quickly you get a response after sending out a request. Think of it as your network's reaction time, the lag time between when you tap a key and when something happens. This is measured in milliseconds. A gamer might notice a difference between a ping of 20 milliseconds and a ping of 200 milliseconds, but in a working-from-home situation, these split-second differences will not be impactful.

How can I increase my internet speed?

As established in the beginning of this article, the average individual will be able to function just fine in a work-from-home situation with an internet speed of just 20 Mbps (25 Mbps is considered high-speed internet service). However, that speed is only sufficient if the majority of your neighbors do not have internet service, you live alone, and you have no other devices connected to your home network. Since that’s hardly ever the case, most individuals need a higher maximum internet speed than 20 Mbps in order to work from home. In fact, depending on your situation, even with 50 Mbps or, in some instances, as much as 100 Mbps, you may still occasionally experience some frustrating lags.

The good news is that it’s possible to increase your internet speed without jumping to the next tier (the next higher-priced package) offered by your service provider. Following are a few quick tips to help obtain the fastest Internet speeds from your current service so you can work from home without experiencing those aggravating delays.

Upgrade your equipment

Older equipment operates more slowly and can drastically diminish your user experience. To get the best service you must upgrade all hardware — this includes everything from your modem and router to your laptop or computer

Try a reset

Simply unplugging your modem for a minute and plugging it back in can work wonders.

Work at opportune times

If you know that you'll have faster speeds at 10 a.m. than 2 p.m., try to get those data-heavy tasks done earlier in the day.

Clear the road

Especially if you have kids at home, no online gaming during work hours. Also, consider shutting off all nonessential devices so nothing is biting into your bandwidth.

Stick to SD

If streaming is a necessity during your work hours, knock the resolution down to standard definition so it takes up considerably fewer megabits. This will increase the speed potential for your work needs.

No repeaters

If you are having trouble with signal strength as well as speed, a WiFi repeater (or a mesh network) might not be the answer, as it can drastically reduce your internet speed. If a stronger signal is needed, consider moving your workspace closer to your WiFi router or purchasing a WiFi range extender that can increase the reach of your home WiFi network by using a wired connection so it doesn't diminish your bandwidth.

Plug in

The best way to get the fastest internet is to use a wired connection. If this is possible, it is highly recommended for a work-from-home situation.

Get technical

If you are tech-savvy, it is possible on most modems to set which devices or types of connections are a priority. This way, even if someone else is trying to hog the bandwidth in your house, your home office needs will come first.

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