You’ve got things to do — the last thing you need is your internet speed slowing you down. But how much internet speed do you need? And is speed the only thing that keeps your internet hopping along?
Everyone wants fast internet, but no one wants to pay for speed they don’t need or speed they’re not really getting even though they’re paying for it. Find out what IT departments (and home users) can do to achieve the speed you need without being overwhelmed by the lingo.
Quick review of the lingo
Broadband: A broad (wide) band of frequencies that allow many different types of traffic to be sent or received at the same time — voice, video, data and TV all on the same connection.
Packets: Small pieces of information (data) on the web that contain the text, images and video you experience on your device. They travel on the information highway as small pieces of a puzzle. You need all the pieces to understand the message. Packet loss is when some packets don’t get where they’re going so you get jittery or inconsistent performance.
Bandwidth: The maximum (width) or capacity of your connection (highway). The greater your bandwidth, the more packets you can send at one time.
Mbps: “Megabits per second” is the unit used for measuring how much data (packets) you are transferring per second. Higher Mbps means more data.
Latency: How long it takes your data to make it to its destination. This varies due to distance (geography), congestion, filters and other circumstances and is represented by the number of (ms) milliseconds when you test your Internet speed.
Peering: No one carrier own the entire internet. The internet is comprised of many different companies all connecting to each other. Peering is when internet carriers buy connections from each other so they can route traffic to destinations or from destinations no directly connected to the network. Internet congestion typically happens at peering points (like auto interstate on and off ramps).
Routing: It is the process of selecting a path for traffic in a network, or between or across multiple networks.
ISP: Internet Service Provider. Includes companies like Comcast, AT&T, Google, Verizon and smaller or local carriers.
Service Level Agreement (SLA): Contract between an ISP and end user that defines the expected level of service.
Routing protocol (warning — geek alert): Determines how routers communicate with one another. The most common protocols include OSPF (Open Shortest Path First, which finds the shortest route), BGP (Border Gateway Protocol, which dynamically updates routes), RIP (Routing Information Protocol, which shares information about shortest known routes), and Cisco’s older proprietary IGRP and EIGRP (Interior Gateway Routing Protocol and Enhanced IGRP).
Deciphering speed for your business network
STEP 1: Know if you’re too slow
Are people in the office complaining? If your company is using less than 80% of your available internet bandwidth, it’s probably good enough to keep everyone happy. Organizations that routinely use more than 80% of the available bandwidth will undoubtedly be getting complaints. Just because you have slow internet, it does not mean that you do not have enough bandwidth. The problem could be with latency, bandwidth, or a combination of the two (or even other reasons).
STEP 2: Measure the speed of your network
Ask your IT department to report on the throughput you’re actually getting. They’ll collect data from your firewall or router and can also contact your ISP for a report.
STEP 3: Compare what you’re using to what you’re paying for
If your ISP isn’t living up to your agreement, your ISP needs to know about it. And it’s much easier to get your ISP to hold up their end of the bargain of the SLA when you have the data in hand. If they are making good on your SLA, then you need to do more troubleshooting.
STEP 4: Determine if your slow network is caused by latency or bandwidth issues
Bandwidth: If you’re routinely hitting your SLA’s max bandwidth, you don’t have enough capacity to cover the times you need to push more packets through the pipeline (bursts). For companies leveraging cloud computing, as a rule of thumb, you need roughly 1.5Mbps per employee. For example, a 50-user company using Office 365 and Salesforce should have an aggregate of 75Mbps of internet bandwidth (companies whose employees who use the internet for email and web browsing only need much less). Another rule of thumb is to look at your company’s average speed and then double it — you want 50% more speed available to handle bursts.
Latency: If your bandwidth looks good, then your IT team will look at the routes your network uses. There could be bottlenecks leaving your facility or traffic jams at peering locations or other points along the route. Once the problem areas are located, your IT team should work with your ISP to reroute your traffic, which will speed it up. Buying more speed from the ISP, even if your ISP wants you to, won’t fix a peering problem. Internet routing protocols are supposed to find the best routes automatically but sometimes they don’t. Think of it as GPS routing for a road trip. You can get stuck in traffic if your GPS doesn’t reroute you around an accident. The newest routing protocols look at response time in addition to the shortest distance.
Latency plus bandwidth: Sometimes you have more than one problem going on. Start by solving the Bandwidth issue (add capacity), then work on the latency issues (fix routing).
STEP 5: If you need to buy more capacity, consider buying it from a different carrier and/or different channel
Cover your bases by combining two different ISPs (and types of circuits) to arrive at your ideal Mbps. That way if there’s a problem with your main channel (or a problem with your carrier), the other can kick in. For most companies, it makes sense to use broadband for most of their internet use and add fiber, which is more expensive, for bursts or specific types of traffic. With the right tools, your IT team can classify traffic into different categories then prioritize the categories. And if your team is really geeky they can even prioritize certain websites.
STEP 6: Monitor your network
Your IT team can respond to problems faster if they continually monitor your network for problems, including security issues. Often they’ll be able to reroute traffic with your ISP before your staff is affected very much.
Part of Leapfrog’s service is to advocate on our client’s behalf. If there’s a problem with internet service or with the carrier, we handle it, from SLAs to routing issues. We have tools to measure usage and pinpoint information about network congestion down to specific locations. We’re also big advocates of having more than one internet connection and we work with clients to figure out their optimal solution. The goal is for our clients to never have to think about the internet — it’s just up and working fast, like it’s supposed to — and not pay for more than they need to.
Deciphering speed for your home network
Step 1: Test your current speed by visiting speedtest.net
Speedtest.net will give you three numbers: your ping, your download speed and your upload speed. Try it at different times of day to see how the speeds fluctuate — your fastest times will probably be in the middle of the night when the web has less traffic. Once you know your numbers, you can see how they measure up to the recommended standards below. You can also see if your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is delivering what you’re paying for.
Step 2: Understand what each internet highway offers
- DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, delivers internet over phone lines that were built for voice, not data. It maxes out at around 7Mbps, which no longer qualifies as broadband. To be considered broadband, today’s minimum download speed is 25Mbps.
- Cable delivers internet over lines that were built for TV, so it provides a wider highway than DSL and meets the 25Mbps minimum, currently maxing out around 50Mbps
- Fiber optic cable is fastest, topping out at a whopping 1Gbps from Google Fiber. That’s one gigaBIT per second, or 1,000 times faster than 1Mbps, but most equipment can’t deliver those numbers yet. Fiber isn’t everywhere yet, but it is in some parts of Atlanta and is definitely where the industry is headed
Step 3: Know what your home needs:
Do you primarily use the internet to send emails and surf the web? Are you — or anyone in your family — into gaming or Netflix binge watching? How many people and devices are connected at one time? For a basic guideline, see the FCC’s speed guide or Household Broadband Guide, or use these download speed recommendations from modem manufacturer NetGear:
- 5Mbps or less: Basic web surfing and email
- 5-10Mbps: Web surfing, email, occasional streaming and online gaming with few connected devices
- 10-25Mbps: Moderate HD streaming, online gaming and downloading with a moderate number of connected devices
- 25-40Mbps: Heavy HD streaming, online gaming and downloading with a lot of connected devices
- 40+Mbps: Hardcore streaming, gaming, and downloading with an extreme number of connected devices
Remember to add up all of the activities that are happening at the same time to arrive at your actual needs. For example, if you have four people in your house each streaming something different on 1.5 devices, it can add up. If you have major Mbps needs, you need a big car to carry all those data packets on a fast information highway!
Step 4: Choose your speed … for right now
Once you’ve answered how much internet speed do you need, you can look for the best place to get it as well as your current equipment. You might need to change providers and upgrade your modem and/or router to get it. You can ask your ISP if you’re not sure that your modem and router can handle faster internet speeds — they may offer you a good deal on new ones. Keep in mind buying them outright can be less expensive than renting from your ISP.
Also, if you see ads touting Mbps that are 10 times higher or more than those listed above, keep in mind that those super-high speeds are based on max bandwidth speeds under optimal conditions that include four things: your highway infrastructure (DSL, cable, fiber), your modems, your routers, and all of the servers along the highway to and from your home being able to handle those speeds. Someday all four of those things will be in alignment, but they’re probably not yet.