The international outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has led many businesses to take precautions that limit social interaction and potential spread. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 25% of workers 15 years and older worked from home during 2017-2018. With the push for self-quarantining and social distancing, that rate has inevitably risen, though we won't know exactly how much until new statistics are available.

Those same statistics show that roughly 70% of workers did not have the option to work from home during 2017-2018. Industries like agriculture, hospitality, construction, retail and transportation have little room to allow for remote work. But in light of nationwide quarantines, many businesses are suddenly needing to work from home.

When you factor in the many school and business closures, there are suddenly a lot of people home and looking for online entertainment. Seven million people in the San Francisco Bay Area counties have been ordered to stay home after officials announced a shelter-in-place mandate. So far, U.S. telecom providers claim the internet gridlock is holding up.

The internet you need at home will likely have a different set of demands than the internet connection required for work. Part of equipping your home for remote work means making sure you have a fast and reliable internet connection. This guide will help you determine what internet speeds you have, what you need, and what you can do if the two don’t match up.

Check your current speed

The speeds you receive in your home may be different from the package listed on your internet bill. There are a lot of factors between the internet provider and your computer that can affect your connection: the type of router and its location, your neighborhood’s infrastructure, local internet congestion, etc. 

You can check the speeds you actually receive with Speedtest by Ookla. We recommend testing your speed at different times of the day to capture the different peak hours you may be working. 

Calculate the speed you need

The exact internet speed you need will depend on the number of devices connected and how those devices are using the internet. The most important factor will be how you use the internet. 

Activities like large file uploading, downloading, HD video conferencing, and streaming will require a more advanced connection. If you’ll be frequently attending video conferences, you’ll need a connection that can support high-quality video. The same goes for jobs that involve a lot of file sharing, particularly large visual or audio files. 

Alternatively, if your job only requires the internet for emails and some web browsing, you can get away with a lower speed. Find the activities that are the closest match for your day-to-day work and check to see how much speed they likely require. If you’re between two rows, we recommend the higher speed.

SpeedActivity* 
5-10 MbpsMinimal web browsing, emailing
10-15 MbpsFrequent emailing, web browsing, some video conferencing, SD streaming
20-25 MbpsSome HD video conferencing, HD streaming
30-50 MbpsHD video conferencing, some 4K streaming, small file transfers
75-100 MbpsSome large file transfers, 4K streaming
150-200 MbpsFrequent large file transfers
250-500+ MbpsSimultaneous, high-demand activity on multiple devices

* Each new bracket accommodates the previous line’s activities. 

If you live with others, you may end up with multiple people working at home. For each additional person, increase the speed needed by about 50%. These recommendations are meant to give you a general idea of the speed that may fit your circumstance and are not prescriptive.

Take action

Once you’re aware of the internet speed you have and the speed you need, there are a few ways to take action if those numbers aren’t aligned.

  • Move your router. The location of your wireless router and your distance from it can affect your speed. If your router is downstairs in the basement, and you work upstairs in a bedroom with thick walls, your internet connection will suffer. Try moving your router to the same room you work in and see whether the connection improves. If you're unable to move your router, try working closer to it.
  • Buy your own router or WiFi extender. If you rent a router from your internet provider, it’s likely on the same radio wave as all your neighbors who also rented their router. This can cause more congestion during peak internet hours. Buying your own router lets you optimize your internet speed and security. It’ll also save you money over time.
  • Upgrade your internet plan. Shop around for a faster internet plan, either with a new provider or your current one. Fiber-optic internet offers the most reliable connection if it’s available and in your budget. We’d recommend considering satellite internet only as a last resort — it’s less reliable and comes with low speeds and data limitations. 

As you make this transition, your company’s HR and IT departments are your best resource for the transition to remote work. They’ll likely be able to offer helpful equipment, technical advice, and may require you to sign on to the internet using your company’s virtual private network (VPN).

Don’t panic

If you’re worried about being able to afford the internet during the pandemic, know that some organizations are trying to help. To combat internet issues and support customers during this time, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), announced The Keep Americans Connected Pledge that will implore providers to implement the following for 60 days:

  • Will not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of an inability to pay bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Will waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Will open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them. 

Most companies have already pledged to implement these measures. Some providers have announced additional measures to support customers. Cox announced plans to upgrade internet speed for select residential packages. Comcast is offering low-income customers who have the Internet Essentials package, two free months of internet and raising speeds to 25 Mbps. Comcast is also pausing data limits for the increase in home use and added educational content for kids to their on-demand TV service.

All official information and recommendations on COVID-19 can be found on the CDC’s website.

Sources

  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  2. New York Times
  3. Fortune
  4. Federal Communications Commission
  5. Cox Newsroom
  6. BusinessWire
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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