Gigabit ethernet is all the rage. Companies from Google to AT&T are promoting the fastest home internet speeds available ever! Availability is limited, so sign up now! Your home could be in the next neighborhood to receive this amazing technology. Your office could be in the next metropolis to receive gigabit connectivity!  

Most people think gigabit ethernet is fifty times faster than the twenty megabyte speeds they already have. And twenty megabytes seems plenty fast, right? The problem is that a gigabit is 1,000 bits, not bytes. And since there are eight bits in a byte, gigabit ethernet is actually 125 megabytes per second and not 1,000 megabytes per second. Make no mistake: gigabit ethernet is wildly fast, but it is not fifty times faster than a robust twenty Mbps connection. But this type of misunderstanding about the nomenclature and naming convention associated with broadband connectivity illustrates just how little most people understand about bandwidth and connectivity as a whole.

an ethernet jack and cable

How much bandwidth is enough for your business?
Image courtesy of Flickr user Razor512


It seems strange to recall that barely more than twenty years ago, 56k connectivity and dial-up modems were still gaining mass adoption. An entire generation remembers the sound of dialing followed by static and a handful of dings as a workstation or laptop connected to the world wide web. Now, thanks to WiFi and cellular data, high speed connectivity is ubiquitous. Not being able to “get a signal” is rare, and when it happens, it impacts how we go about our daily lives. Enterprise network speeds are increasing while total costs are decreasing, which means more and more businesses have access to the connectivity they need to flourish.

Defining broadband speeds

Broadband speeds are typically defined by two numbers. The first number represents how quickly data packets can be downloaded from a network. The second number represents how quickly data packets can be uploaded to the network. For example, a 20/2 connection would mean download speeds of up to twenty gigabytes per second and upload speeds of up to two gigabytes per second. Download speeds are almost always faster than upload speeds. However, a 20/2 connection doesn’t mean downloads always take place at 20 Mb per second. In most cases the speed is a bit slower. Same goes for upload speeds. A consistent connection speed is rare. In casual conversation, the download speed is most commonly referred to when indicating a connection, so a user might say they have a “twenty megabyte pipe.”

Mobile devices also come with high speed data connectivity, although that connectivity is rarely defined in terms of megabytes. 3G connections offer speeds of between .5 and 1.5 megabytes per second with maximum speeds of around 3 Mbps. 4G connections offer speeds of between 2 and 12 Mbps. The current gold standard, LTE, allows mobile users data access of almost 30 Mbps, which is on par with (or better than) most home and business connections.

Broadband in business

In a business environment, the entire bandwidth (also known as a “circuit” or “pipe”) is divided between all current users, so a one-person office with a 10 megabyte connection will experience faster upload and download speeds than 100 users sharing a 20 Mbps circuit. Furthermore, many businesses pay much more than residences for the same connection speed. A 20 megabyte circuit in a home might cost less than $100 a month, while the same connection in an office complex might cost three times as much. Conventional wisdom suggests that the home user won’t utilize nearly as much of that circuit as a business would, so allocation and pricing can be distorted in an inequitable way.

So how much bandwidth is enough for your business? The answer obviously depends on how you are using your connection. Simple web traffic and email can be handled on a relatively small (5-20 Mbps) connection with ease. Conversely, a construction company transferring large project files or a video company editing high definition footage over the internet might require a much larger pipe. Most internet service providers can help plan for your needs and many will provide flexible service to accommodate spikes and irregularities in use. Since most connectivity options in the enterprise offer generous download speeds but significantly lower upload speeds, pay careful attention to how much data you need to put on the network when deciding what service is right for you.

Keep in mind that data usage isn’t only important for workstations and devices connected to wifi; data backups and VOIP solutions both require adequate upload bandwidth availability to work correctly. When evaluating your broadband choices, make sure to list out every network connected device and application before making any final decisions.

Internet connectivity has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Not long ago, even the best connections for business came with slow page loads and poor resolution for video conferencing. Now, affordable solutions exist that make latency for high-definition video streaming and cloud-based enterprise applications a non-issue. As is often the case with technological tools, the key to success is understanding the solution you are integrating into your existing network, both now and in the future. Click here if you need more information on determining the right broadband connection for your business!