How much bandwidth does my business need?
Bandwidth is a measure of how much data can be transferred over an internet network in a certain unit of time — measured in bits per second (bps). And it may be one of the most important factors affecting a business’ network performance.
The higher a network’s bandwidth, the more data it can transmit and receive. A network with insufficient bandwidth can come at a cost, especially if it means your network lacks the capacity to perform functions vital to your business — such as interactive video conferencing or transferring critical data files.
Bandwidth is only going to grow more important as the digital transformation continues to disrupt enterprise networking — forcing bandwidth growth due to greater adoption of IoT devices, cloud storage and automation. And Neislen’s law of internet bandwidth estimates each user’s bandwidth requirements grow by about 50% each year — meaning if you require 50 Mbps this year, it’s likely you’ll require 75 Mbps next and 113 the year after that.
That’s why keeping up with ever-growing bandwidth needs is a continual concern for businesses large and small. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all bandwidth calculator for businesses, understanding the factors driving bandwidth needs can help you estimate your business’ unique requirements.
Calculating your business’ bandwidth needs
Different tasks have different bandwidth requirements — and if multiple users are using multiple internet-based applications at once, it can add up quickly.
Streaming 4K video requires 25 Mbps of bandwidth per user, downloading files can take 10 Mbps, VoIP video calls requires 1.5 Mbps. And those are just a handful of the activities one user at a company might engage in on a daily basis.
The amount of bandwidth you need is impacted by how you use your network
There are many calculators and formulas that are helpful in estimating your bandwidth needs. But these often consider only one application or activity, averaging usage across the estimated number of users.
In reality, larger businesses might have hundreds of employees and use hundreds of different internet-based applications. To accurately measure your bandwidth needs, you’ll need to use a network monitoring tool to test how much your business is using.
Still, understanding general usage categories can help you identify roughly how much bandwidth your business requires based on the number of users and the applications used. Below, we categorize usage as light, medium and high, offering per-user bandwidth for common business activities as provided by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Light usage: Few users browsing the web and checking email
Businesses that have only a few employees using the internet to perform basic business functions like sending emails and browsing the web do not require much bandwidth.
- Basic web browsing: 1 Mbps per user
- Checking email: 1 Mbps per user
- Instant messaging: 5 Mbps
Medium usage: Moderate number of users and video streaming
Your business’ bandwidth needs will grow as you increase the number of devices, users and the data needs of the application. Activities such as video streaming or engaging in webinars require more bandwidth than basic web browsing.
- Streaming music: 3 Mbps per user
- Streaming video: 3 Mbps per user for standard video
- Watching a webinar: 5+ Mbps per user depending on video quality
High usage: Many users, cloud-based applications, large file transfers
The sky’s the limit when it comes to bandwidth requirements. Bigger files, more users and greater levels of cloud adoption can all contribute to heightened bandwidth needs for businesses.
- Streaming HD video: 5 Mbps per user for high definition video
- Streaming 4K video: 25 Mbps per user for 4K video
- Video teleconferencing in HD: 6 Mbps per user
- Downloading files: 10+ Mbps per user depending on size and type of file
Beyond bandwidth: Other network performance metrics to consider
Bandwidth and speed are not synonymous. Rather, bandwidth is but one factor affecting network speed — although it’s the performance metric that internet service providers (ISPs) often rely on to communicate their network speeds.
To understand network speeds, think of your network like a highway. The number of lanes is the bandwidth. And the amount of time it takes to travel from one exit to another is latency. Together, bandwidth and latency determine the speed, or throughput, of traffic.
Latency affects how long a data request takes, and high-latency networks will have long delays, out-of-sync video calls and a lower perceived quality of the network. Bandwidth affects the amount of data that can be uploaded or downloaded at once. A network with a lower bandwidth will result in lengthy file transfers and the inability to run certain applications.
Generally, you want a high-bandwidth, low-latency network to achieve the best speeds. Of course, latency, bandwidth and even speed barely touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to evaluating network performance.
To know what kind of network configuration best supports a high-speed connection, look to the FCC’s Measuring Broadband America report. They take a holistic look at network performance — analyzing factors such as latency, upload and download speed, packet loss and bandwidth when evaluating different network types. And what they found is that fiber networks tend to have the highest median speeds — at a good level of consistency.
Beyond speed benefits, fiber networks also offer near limitless scalability, limited only by the equipment transmitting and receiving the signals. Equipment upgrades will allow you to scale your network up as your bandwidth requirements grow year over year according to Nielsen’s law.
For more answers to questions about business networking solutions, get in touch with our team. As the premier source for high bandwidth connectivity in St. Louis, we can build you an end-to-end dark fiber solution— and we can guide you through everything you need to know when you’re planning your business’ network.