With so much of everyday business now being done online using cloud-based software and services—from data backups to telehealth services to Teams and Zoom calls and teleconferences—your internet speed directly affects your productivity and bottom line. If your internet service provider’s upload and download speeds aren’t up to these essential tasks, your business may suffer.  

Your small business can save money by using cloud-based technology and services in place of server-based software, but if your internet speeds are keeping you from quickly interacting with those cloud applications, you may find yourself ruing the day you first heard about the cloud. The right internet speed is crucial, but it’s also important not to overbuy.  

To choose the right internet speed for your business, you need a full picture of how your business relies on uploading and downloading data to and from cloud applications. Let’s explore downloads and uploads and internet speed in general. This will help you to make informed decisions.

Typical downloads and uploads

For small businesses, typical downloads may include:

  • Loading web pages like your email server, email application, search engines, banking interface and social media accounts
  • Accessing data and reports from your cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM), accounting, and document management software
  • Streaming learning resources like webinars, workshops and training courses
  • Streaming media content to your office(s) from music and television services
  • Receiving files such as documents, photos and videos

Typical uploads are:

  • Sending data to a bank, insurance provider, credit card company or shopping site
  • Sending, storing and posting photos, documents and videos
  • Posting on social media
  • Backing up your data to the cloud
  • Web hosting
  • Posting webinars, training videos and workshops
  • Livestreaming events

Applications that involve both uploading and downloading include:

  • Interactive online training courses
  • Teams or Zoom calling and teleconferencing
  • Telehealth video conferencing
  • Using a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) telephone system

How speed applies

Internet speed is measured in megabits per second (Mbps). This expresses the rate of data transfer into your office to your router and devices, and the rate of data you send out from your office network. The use of Wi-Fi, the type and number of devices and the applications you use are some of the factors that impact the performance of your connection. The internet connection operates just like a two-way street for incoming and outgoing traffic. If there’s a lot of traffic, your data will all get through, but it may take a lot longer.

There may be a difference between upload and download speed in your data connection. In this two-way street, you may have a different speed limit for inbound and outbound traffic (asymmetrical) or similar speeds in both directions (typically available with fiber-optic internet service).

How faster speeds can help your business

With so many modern business practices now conducted in cloud-based applications, if your upload and download speeds are lagging, your productivity takes a major hit. We’ve all experienced the misery of staring at endlessly spinning wheels or progress bars that never seem to move, often when we’re waiting for a download we need to complete a task. And we shouldn’t be late to dinner because it took an hour to back up the week’s data.

If your business does a lot of file sharing between team members or with clients, fast upload and download speeds will make the transfer of files more efficient. And for video conferencing like Teams or Zoom meetings, or livestreamed company events, faster speeds will save you headaches and can prevent some awkward technical difficulties. The same holds true for medical offices using telehealth applications. No one wants to be in a video chat with their physician when the video keeps freezing.

Factors affecting download and upload speeds

Connection. This refers to the way your computer accesses the internet (either via Wi-Fi or through a physical cable). If you use a wireless connection or connect using your cellphone as a hotspot, the performance will be significantly lower than if your computer has a physical or “wired” connection to the modem or router.

Configuration. Based on your location and the services available in your area, your internet service provider offers you a certain level of service at different prices. You may be choosing from copper-based DSL services and fiber-optic services. Ask your service representative what will work best for your needs.

Location. Internet speed is also affected by the location of the remote source, or a device like a modem or printer, that is available for shared use in the network. Remember, any exchange between your computer and the source of the content requires multiple servers and internet routes, and at every step there may be a myriad of performance-limiting factors. Placing your router in a central location in your business is one way to improve performance.

Demand on the network. Just like regular traffic on the road, at certain peak times there is a higher volume of data going back and forth, and this slows the overall internet speed in your area when you are both downloading and uploading data.

Measure with upload and download speed tests

Many companies will measure your internet speed for free. When you run the test, your computer sends out a “test packet” of data to a server, which in turn sends the same “test packet” back to you and determines the speed of each segment of the round trip in terms of Mbps.

The test itself is very simple and usually takes less than a minute to complete.

A word of caution: Although these tests do not require the installation of any software on your computer, some companies may offer you an application for purchase that claims to help boost your internet speed. Do your research to ensure the company is reputable and that the application is exactly what you want before installing anything.

In general, if your internet service doesn’t seem “sluggish” and you don’t have to wait forever to download files, or if you can conduct a teleconference without unexpected freezing or a have a VoIP call without lagging, then your internet speed works well for you. But if you need faster upload speeds, it may be time to think about fiber-optic service, if it’s available in your area.