Whether you’ve been working at home for years or have just started working from home like many others due to the COVID-19 crisis, you have probably already realized the importance of having a solid internet connection. Unfortunately, many connections simply aren’t up to par with what’s needed or what would be optimal.
However, if you are reading this, then you might already be looking for a new provider, methods of improvement, or just some potential alternatives. If any of these are the case, then you should know that there multiple ways to reach your goal, and we’re here to help you figure out what the best internet options and improvements for you might be.
While we won’t recommend specific companies and plans for you in this article due to regional differences, we do ask that you consider and read over all of the following to be fully informed:
What’s Important to a Remote Worker
As a rule of thumb, what is best for home usage and browsing is also best for remote work, albeit perhaps with a few tweaks and different priorities. Here are the main things you should pay attention to:
If you might regularly get a dropped video conference call or something similar, at least on your end, then it does not reflect positively upon you as a remote worker, even if you have the most understanding bosses and co-workers. You may have one of the fastest download speeds in the country, but it doesn’t mean too much if you can’t trust that you’ll have a consistent connection all day and whenever you need it.
Some companies, or more specifically, some companies in specific areas, are better than others when it comes to connection reliability. Take some notes and learn which ones are worth your consideration.
Even if you have the most consistent connection that does not mean much if it takes five minutes to download a simple instructional video. Similarly, you need a minimum speed to properly run some of the most common apps for working from home (more on them later), and requirements generally tend to increase over time, which means you should think ahead.
We’ll have more specific information on what you might need later. Study now the speeds (both upload and download, as some remote work might necessitate a lot of uploading) and then also factor in what your other household members might use on a given day. It’s not just you using the internet, and you don’t want there to be household arguments over the bandwidth.
Something you should be particularly wary of when it comes to this is that the speeds ISPs advertise are not necessarily what you get. Notice how they often say “download speeds of up to X” or some variation. Try to learn what the real numbers are before making any commitments.
Good Customer Service
While you might have resigned yourself to poor customer service from other ISPs in the past, if you’re looking to make an improvement, then you need to consider this heavily as well.
Why? Because if service drops or you’re having difficulty for any reason, you can’t work, especially when businesses normally offering free internet access are closed. If it takes months for a technician to come out to your home, you will be severely inconvenienced, lose money or work hours, and perhaps even lose your job or clients for something otherwise outside of your control. You need to work with a company you can trust, even if that means a slightly higher premium.
Consider Your Own Specific Remote Work Goals and Needs
While it is hard to imagine someone not benefiting from improved metrics in any of the above, ultimately you and your household are the only people who know what you need. There might be special equipment considerations, or perhaps you will need to compromise so that other members of your family can have a better cable package.
What Do You Need for Common Programs and Tasks?
Simple web browsing or checking most emails won’t be a problem for even the most basic of connections, but there are also more intensive apps for sharing more information and video chatting, which a weak connection will not be adequate for. Most of the ones to take note of will be video chatting apps, as many tools used by companies now are little different from basic web browsing.
Here are the most commons ones you should be aware of and the maximum of what you may need:
Speeds may vary based on your usage and how many people are on a call, for example. Also, some apps may update and gain higher requirements, or newer, more bandwidth-intensive apps may appear. It is best to future-proof your internet service as much as possible.
Additionally, many common background apps and programs will need a constant connection and will use a share of your bandwidth to remain operational. Since many of these are industry-specific or vary based on their current function, you can measure them using a few online tools or your operating system’s task manager.
Noting Regional Options
Unfortunately, some areas of the country simply have more and better options for internet service than others. While some companies or even local governments are working to change that, you might have to make do in the meanwhile. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at the following, however.
What Is Available?
The first thing you need to look at is what options you have available. To do that, you can use this very website to learn everything you need to know. The only exception might be some smaller local or municipal ISPs, as have tended to pop up in smaller cities, although you will likely see local marketing on those options. Ideally, you should check to see what ISPs are operating and what packages they are offering in your area. Just because a company offers gigabit internet in one city does not mean they can do so in your town.
If prospects look dire, you should know that some options such as satellite internet are always available, and you can check to see if a new ISP might be launching in your area soon.
Pricing and Competition
While internet is an investment that is almost priceless for people who must work from home, that doesn’t mean you can disregard the price when it comes to your household finances. While a service can be amazing, there’s not much to be done if you can’t realistically afford it.
Remember that the price you see advertised is not always what you’ll get, and that goes both ways. The deal you get on a bundle will eventually run out, likely leaving you with a higher bill than you might first think. Alternatively, you might be able to negotiate a good deal or work with someone to get a better introductory rate. A lot more is negotiable than you might think, especially in more economically uncertain times like these.
And if you can play your current provider and a potential new provider against each other, so to speak, that’s all the better, so keep an eye out for all alternatives. The more competition, the better.
When It’s Time to Switch
We recommend switching internet service providers in the following circumstances:
- When your current ISP simply isn’t able to provide you with the download and upload speeds you need to work.
- After an unacceptable price hike in your current services, and there are better options.
- Your service experiences frequent drops, and/or customer service is not able to help you.
- When early termination fees don’t matter anymore, or your new ISP would cover them.
While we understand that switching is a process that can effectively reroute an entire day for you, we promise that you’ll save plenty of time by working with a company that can adapt to your needs more capably. There’s no reason to remain loyal if it isn’t working out for you.
Connections or Service Types
The type of service offered and how the internet is provided matters a great deal when it comes to potential speed and reliability. Try to familiarize yourself with the following to determine if you have the best option available to you:
Most of the cutting edge and gigabit internet connections you see advertised in major population centers are based on fiber-optic service, which boasts on average by far the fastest speeds among all available options. And while some cable connections are technically faster than the common fiber-optic connection, we would still recommend fiber internet to nearly anyone working from home if it were available, if only due to its consistency. In fact, the only main fault it has is that it’s not available everywhere, as new wires are needed for it to be available.
If you get a fiber-optic connection and don’t run into issues with the availability of your service or service consistency, you will never have to worry about working from home, or doing anything else online.
Download Speed Range: Up to 1000 Mbps, with some connections reaching even higher speeds.
One of the most common types of services available in America, cable internet is provided through cable lines already existing in your area. For many average households, the speed holds up fine and will be more than enough to get everything you need done. If you hear the term “broadband” used, it generally means that you’ll have access to a faster than average connection.
Also, due to the use of the cables by everyone else using cable internet, cable internet service is far more apt to get interference from many people using the internet in your area at once. You’re less likely to get the speeds advertised, which sometimes makes it a poor choice for people working from home. You will also probably either need to get a cable subscription or pay more than the speeds are worth to get the service.
Download Speed Range: 3-2000 Mbps, although 50-100 is far more common.
While satellite internet could have been considered something of a novelty or experiment some years prior, technology has progressed significantly to the point where satellite internet is a legitimate and fine option for working from home, especially if you prefer to get away from society and really push the idea of working remotely to the limit.
There are still limitations to this service type, however. There are monthly data caps that mean although you can probably work without too much issue, streaming media, or doing much on top of that can be stretching the limits of your plan. The price is also prohibitive for some given what you’re getting, and there will likely be a hefty installation fee. Additionally, you will need a good space to set up your receiver, and service interruptions are possible, if not eventually likely.
Overall, we recommend most other options before satellite, but for some remote workers, it will be just what is needed.
Download Speed Range: Up to 30 Mbps, although it will vary.
Given its use of phone lines, one could say that DSL internet, once a significant advancement in internet speed and availability, is one of the least appealing options available today. Outside of dial-up is usually provides the lowest speeds, and on the lower end of its spectrum, it would not be enough to use the programs and tools often needed to work from home. Remember that you don’t always get the speed advertised, take great care when working with DSL, and check to make sure that you can get the speed you need.
Download Speed Range: 3-50 Mbps
While it might be considered a joke for dial-up service to be included on this list, millions of people still use dial-up internet as their primary way to stay online. While most of those people probably aren’t working remotely, there are some who might consider it out of desperation. Do not fall for it. People working from home with this type of connection will not be able to work optimally. They would have to wait a long time to even view this page, and you should probably consider satellite internet before this, no matter the limitations.
Download Speed Range: Up to 53 kbps
Getting Internet into Your Home Office
Use an Ethernet Cable
If you, without a doubt, want the fastest, most consistent connection in your home and to get the most of your internet service, a new ethernet cable is still the best option. You can either run a longer cable to where you need it or make sure your setup is close to your modem, so it’s an easy connection.
A Good Wireless Receiver
If an ethernet cable isn’t the best option for you, whether you’re worried about the look or whether your cat might chew through it, then that doesn’t mean you can’t upgrade your wireless setup.
Whether you’re using a laptop or desktop, consider getting a new receiver that can handle speeds as high as your modem or router will work with or your ISP can provide.
While you shouldn’t need to and generally shouldn’t (there are other options) rearrange your entire home to get a better WiFi signal, you should try to make sure that things are set up to optimize the signal. Make sure that there are no materials that are known to block WiFi signals in the way, and while you shouldn’t be changing the walls in your house for the sake of good internet, try to keep the layout in mind. Perhaps most importantly, try to keep the areas around your modem and receiver clear.
What About Mobile Hotspots?
Some people will work from home or (perhaps more accurately) work remotely by simply hopping from mobile hotspot to mobile hotspot, frequenting libraries and cafes, and sometimes doing the rest from their smartphone if an emergency pops up. However, they can’t always be relied upon for the long term, especially during times when the ability to work remotely would yield the greatest advantage.
Overall, they can perhaps be a safety net at times your home internet is working, but you shouldn’t rely on them completely.
Improving Your Current Internet Service
If you can’t or don’t want to switch providers, you don’t have to in order to get more from your internet service. Instead, you can try and do more with what you have and take advantage of offers and resources readily available.
Optimizing Your Home Setup
We’ve touched upon this a little bit in the section above about getting internet into your home office, but make sure that you’ve optimized the space for getting good internet. And while this shouldn’t be a concern in most cases, if something’s blocking the connection or you have your receiver in a corner, it might be time to make a few changes.
If you’re wondering if this might be the right call, it might appear that it’s just your work computer that isn’t getting the connection it needs, while everything else is fine. Testing the same tasks with other devices throughout the home will be a quick and easy filtering method.
Addressing Problems with Customer Service
While we admit that this might be a more difficult thing for people currently in the middle of a lockdown or stay-at-home order area, sometimes a call to customer service can help. On rare occasions, someone might not be getting the service package they are paying for. A line could be damaged, and no one else has called in about it yet. Sometimes the problem is something you can’t handle on your own.
Effectively, if something seems terribly off or if there was a sudden and relatively lasting change (a few days), it might be easier to give the company you are already working with a chance first before looking into other options or investments. However, if customer service seems ineffective, see what else you can do to keep yourself working.
Other Helpful Tools and Tips
Here are a couple of additional tips and helpful notes to help you decide what to do about your internet when working from home and how to go about it:
If you’re going to be upgrading your home setup when you’re working from home, consider when you make the change. You can go without Netflix for a few days (we think), but being unable to work online for a bit of time may cause issues if there’s a hiccup in the installation. Let your work know you might not be available outside of your smartphone and try to schedule the installation on a day off if possible.
If you’re curious about what your internet download and upload speeds look like now, you can use an online speed test site or service to get an accurate picture.
If you want to be more scientific about this, you should test at several times during the day, at different levels of usage throughout the home, and from the same place each time (ideally your main workstation). Try to consider every variable.
As a remote worker, your internet connection is one of the most important parts of your life, constantly running in the background so that you have access to everything you need. You pay good money for it as a vital investment in your life and career, so make sure that it is working for you as well.