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How much is enough? Understanding Internet Speed
and What You Need to Get the Job Done

by Alexis Caffrey

With so many options for Internet speed, sometimes it can be difficult to determine how much is enough and how much is more than you'll ever need in a lifetime.

So where do you draw the line?

The answer lies in your normal online habits.

Do you work from home often or full time? If your online routine consists of uploading large or high-resolution files, running multiple online programs or sites at once, or you frequently use VoIP technology (Voice over Internet Protocol) like Skype to communicate with clients, you'll probably need higher bandwidth compared to someone who primarily goes online to check email, browse websites and other activities considered to be "light" Internet use.

Streaming videos and webinars

Depending on the length of the video and its resolution (standard definition vs. high definition), you may require more bandwidth for better quality. A good comparison tool is Netflix. According to the site, to view movie or TV-length videos, 3 Mbps of download speed is recommended for DVD quality. To reach higher HD quality, you'd need to look at speeds of 5 to 7 Mbps.

Uploading/downloading large files and cloud file-sharing

The size of the file, as well as how often you upload or download this type of file, is important when determining how fast your Internet speed should be. If your job involves uploading/downloading edited video, graphic design or animation, lower bandwidth speed could equal an hour or more of your time spent uploading or downloading files.

Cloud-based file-sharing services, like Dropbox, will also require higher bandwidth to sync files with your computer, smartphone or tablet without slowing down your other online activities. If you have higher bandwidth, around 50 Mbps download speeds and upload speeds around 25 Mbps, you can upload and download high-resolution photos in seconds and video in HD quality in minutes, instead of hours.

Online communications - meetings via Skype and sending emails

Depending on your preferred method of digital communication, your speed needs can vary greatly. If you prefer to keep correspondence to traditional phone calls and emails, you won't need to break the bank on bandwidth. However, if your company or clients operate in a different time zone or country - and want some face-to-face time - video calling via Skype or video conferencing services like GoToMeeting require Internet download speeds from at least 1 Mbps to 8 Mbps (for multiple users) to prevent lag in video time.

Location, location, location

The speeds your Internet connection can reach also depend on where you live and what Internet service providers are in your area. Live in a more rural area? Cable companies generally provide Internet access to those who live in larger cities. If this doesn't include your current residence, a satellite Internet connection will provide much faster speeds than dial-up ever could.

If you do happen to live in a larger city (or surrounding suburb), you may have access to a fiber-optic Internet provider. Fiber Internet offers the fastest Internet speeds available. For example, Verizon FiOS Internet can reach download speeds of up to 500 Mbps (megabits per second). With Google's fiber-optic Internet, download speeds can max out at 1 Gbps (that's a gigabit per second), although you have to be lucky enough to live in eligible parts of Kansas City, Austin, or Provo, Utah to get the service.

How fast is my current Internet speed?

The best way to gauge if you have enough speed to do everything work-related in a timely manner is to test your current speed. From there, you can look at available Internet providers in your area to see faster speeds that are available.

A common measurement tool is by Ookla. An online free service, you can immediately find out your download and upload speeds.

Another consideration for at-home workers or telecommuters - your neighbors. While you may be working at home during peak usage hours, your neighbors' online habits could affect your speed, depending on their online activities. Online gaming, streaming video and downloading large files or movies all require larger amounts of bandwidth and can quickly slow down your speed.

At the end of the day, the best way to determine if you need faster Internet speed is your satisfaction with your Internet's current performance. If Internet latency is causing you frustration or decreasing your productivity, check your current speed and look into moving to the next tier of speed available from your local Internet service providers.

Alexis Caffrey is a freelance writer with a focus on technology, new media, and design. In a former life she was a graphic designer based out of New York, NY. You can reach Alex via her email.