By Michelle Ricker February 8, 2021
Summary: Working from home requires a reliable, high-speed internet connection. From knowing what to ask your internet service provider — like what are data caps and asymmetrical upload and download speeds — to troubleshooting in your home, here’s how to make sure you stay connected to everything you do online.
A reliable internet connection is no longer a luxury, and it’s not as simple as asking someone to get off of the phone so you can hop online. Having a reliable high-speed internet connection is critical for working, schooling, and socializing from home. According to a Stanford University Economics newsletter, 42 percent of U.S. employees worked remotely during summer 2020. That’s a lot of people trying to connect to the web. We’ve compiled a list of things you need to look out for when choosing an internet service provider and plan, as well as a few steps you can take to up the ante on your current plan.
Generally, you hear that the faster your internet, the better. But the speed you need actually depends on your household, your devices, and your online habits. You can use a calculator to get specific, but there are also some general guidelines to consider. For households that are video conferencing, playing online games, or streaming movies (but not simultaneously), 40-50 Mbps is probably enough. However, for households who use the internet more heavily, or are connecting to multiple high-data activities at a time, 100 Mbps or more will likely be necessary. Having a higher internet speed can help prevent a bottleneck.
One important thing to remember is that cable internet speeds can slow down during high-traffic hours. This is because multiple households share the same connection, rather than using a dedicated line like fiber internet.
Because fiber internet has a dedicated line and uses light to transmit data rather than electricity, it is able to provide much faster speeds than cable.
Most types of home internet actually function with asymmetrical speeds, meaning your download speed is faster than your upload speed. In general, more people need to download content than to upload it, but if you’re often sending large file attachments, uploading videos to the web, or videoconferencing, you might experience upload lag. (That discrepancy is why you can still see people on your video conference, but they can’t see or hear you.) Symmetrical speed — download and upload speeds being the same — is one of the major benefits of high-speed fiber internet.
If you’ve been keeping up on tech news, you’ve probably heard talk of data caps. Essentially, a data cap is a limit that some providers put on how much data you can consume in a month. While limits vary by provider and plan, if you do have a cap and reach it in a month, internet service providers can slow your speed until the next billing cycle or charge you a hefty fee.
The amount of data you use isn’t directly linked to time online. It’s a measure of how much data you’re receiving and sending. Daily activities like streaming, gaming, working, and video chatting plus your smart home devices all add up and get you closer and closer to the data limit on your internet. For example, streaming in high definition will use more data than streaming in standard. You can always check if your internet use is restricted and how much data you’ve used by checking your online account or your bill.
There are still internet service providers who have no data caps, so if you’re in the market for a new plan, take that into consideration.
Sometimes you don’t need a whole new plan — you just need your WiFi to run at its full potential. There are a few possible explanations for why your internet is slow but we’ll start with how to resolve basic issues on your own.
Reboot Your Equipment
In other words: turn it off, wait 30 seconds, and turn it back on. It’s important to remember that it does take a few minutes to fully reconnect, so be patient. Once you’re back online, you can perform a speed test to see if that fixed the problem. You may also want to note if it’s just one device that’s running slowly, which could indicate it’s a device issue, not an internet problem.
If a simple reboot doesn’t fix your issue, make sure you’re not due for any software updates. (Newer routers do this automatically, but older models require manual updates.) If you’ve rebooted and you’re up to date but still dragging, it may be time to consider upgrading your modem or router to a newer model.
Make Sure Your WiFi Signal Isn’t Blocked
WiFi functions on radio waves, so just like when you’re stopped at a red light and your radio becomes staticky, things in your house can block, or absorb, your WiFi signal. Common construction materials such as concrete, brick, or wood walls in your home can make it tough for WiFi signals to get through. Your best bet is to place your router in an open area with airflow (so it doesn’t overheat). If you live in an apartment complex, your neighbors’ connection could actually be blocking your access to high-speed internet. Before you go house-hunting, there are boosters you can install to strengthen your connection
Take Proactive Steps
There are several things you can regularly do to make sure your internet is running as efficiently as possible.
One easy step is to clear your cache and cookies. A cache is a temporary data storage used by online pages, while cookies are what save user choices and preferences such as passwords. Both are intended to make your browsing experience faster and more personalized, but when you have too many, it actually slows down your internet connection. How to clear them depends on your device and browser, but doing this on a regular basis could make a noticeable difference to your speed.
If you’re someone who has a ton of smart home devices you never use, make sure you’ve turned those off. The same goes for any gaming systems, old phones, or pieces of tech you keep around but don’t regularly use. If it’s connected to WiFi, it’s still taking up bandwidth — even while tucked away in a drawer.
You also want to ensure a sudden WiFi outage never undoes hours of hard work. Taking some proactive steps, like backing up your data or working on a cloud-based service, can go a long way for peace of mind. You can opt for automated file backup or you can take the DIY route and invest in an external hard drive. If you’re going the manual route, make sure you’re backing your data up on a regular basis. Otherwise, you might still lose your progress in an unexpected outage or crash.
If you’ve taken the steps to clean up your current home internet connection and things still aren’t running smoothly, it might be time to switch plans or providers. If you want service you can depend on, no data caps, and reliable high-speed internet, look no further.
Michelle Ricker is a Copywriter for EarthLink. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati with an M.A. in Communication and has more than 5 years of writing experience. She thrives on storytelling and well-placed punctuation. She currently lives and works in Atlanta.
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