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Will Faster Internet Be Useful?


How to determine your Internet speed needs to make sure you are not paying too much and are able to do what you want.

The latest official FCC (Federal Communications Commission) definition of broadband in America is at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Use that as a base. Less than 25 Mbps download speeds will make downloading large files slow. Remember there are two actors involved:
  1. How fast are they sending the information?
  2. How fast can you receive and process it?
If you are streaming video at 3 Mbps, and have 25 Mbps, then you just aren't using the other 22 Mbps in your potential pipeline. If you have 500 Mbps, then you'll be using 3 Mbps and not using the other 497 Mbps. Gigabit Internet connections are 1,000 Mbps, so you'd be wasting 997 Mbps. Why pay for it?

Download and Upload Explained

Download is how fast people can send you information. Upload is how fast you can send data up to the cloud. Download is the only important factor for most users. We seldom send large files and probably shouldn't when we do. Ziply makes a big sales pitch that their upload and download speeds are the same (symmetrical). They oversell the importance of upload speed. Comcast tries to hide its slow upload speeds. It doesn't mention them and I couldn't find the answer on their website. I did a chat with their support and was told that most of their plans were 10 Mbps upload. My tests have run between 6 and 7 Mbps.

How much download speed do you need?

You may be a special case, but most users should simply take the number of users online at any one time, and multiply by 15, then add a little for safety. 15 Mbps is what can effectively stream 4k HD video. Other activities are less demanding, so this is a worst case. If you have 4 people online at the same time all streaming 4k video, you'd need a download speed of 60 Mbps. Round yourself up and get 100 Mbps.

But what about downloading large files? The entire Office 365 installation package is less than 1 GB, so with a 100 Mbps Internet connection, you would download it in less than 1 minute. Remember, they often can't send it much faster, so you won't get your maximum in real-world situations. However, on really large downloads, like the entire Office 365 suite or a full Windows version upgrade, faster speeds can be nice.

Finally, your router or firewall may not be able to process as much as the salespeople try to sell you. Don't let them up-sell you. Pay for what you need, but don't waste your money.

When Is Upload Speed Important?

  • Uploading large files or lots of files. If you have a 15 GB Outlook file and need to back it up, with an upload speed of 3 Mbps, which qualifies as broadband, it will take over 11 hours. That is assuming it could maintain the maximum speed, which it can't. At 7 Mbps (which I get from Comcast), it would take almost 5 hours if miraculously it could maintain maximum speed. It will take much longer. This can make online backup problematic if you have to upload a huge amount of data. It isn't just a large file, it could be many medium-sized files as well. More small files are usually slower to upload than a single large file.
  • Video conferencing like Zoom uses about 1-2 Mbps so the slow Comcast/Xfinity isn't a problem. Security cameras usually use 1-2 Mbps per camera, depending on the quality of the files your cameras upload. If you have a few, security cameras and two or three employees could be doing video conferencing, you will need to calculate your upload bandwidth with your computer consultant and the security camera expert.

Normally, the 6-7 Mbps I measure from Comcast is sufficient. It may not be enough if you have multiple security cameras, or multiple employees doing video conferencing at the same time or use online backups of massive amounts of data. If that's the case, you may need to switch to a symmetric system.

What to do?

  • Check your current plan and determine if you are paying for more than you need.
  • Check your Internet upload and download speeds. Not what they claim you get, but what you are actually getting. I assume you are connected by Ethernet cable. If you are using WiFi, then your distance from the router and particular mobile device limitations could be the bottleneck. Here are some speed test sites I like:
  • If you aren't getting what you are paying for, then contact your ISP and complain. But, remember, they could be providing the bandwidth and the problem could be your modem or router or even your Ethernet cable!
  • If you are overpaying for what you need, call and cut back.

Date: April 2023

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