Internet Speeds and Business Operations

May 30, 2017

How fast is your Internet connection? Fifty megabits? One hundred megabits? A sad seven megabits? Any of those answers would only be partially correct. The often quoted speed of an Internet connection is typically the downstream or download speed. There is another number that has a significant impact on the performance of business Internet connections: the upstream speed.

While true that a large portion of what you do on the Internet is “downloading”, other things such as sending emails, uploading files to customers, and transferring data between multi-site businesses use the upstream portion of your Internet connection.

When DSL and cable broadband came on the scene, they brought with them a paradigm shift. These new connection speeds, known as asymmetric, attempted to strike a balance between the speeds they offered and the shared medium used to deliver the service.

Without getting too technical, we’ll try to explain the basis for these asymmetric speeds. Shared mediums such as coaxial cable or twisted pair telephone lines are used to serve many customers. There is no direct, single line that runs from the ISP to your home or business. Because of that, the available capacity on these lines needs to be divided up in a way so that everyone can get a piece of the pie. Both upload and download signals share those lines too. So, because most businesses and people do more downloading than uploading, the decision was made early on to give a larger slice of the pie to the downstream side.

Unfortunately, that creates some problems for businesses and home office users. Businesses, by their very nature, are producers, but most Internet users are consumers. This difference is key, because when you’re producing something you have to deliver it. This also holds true in the digital realm. An engineer may produce a CAD drawing, or a videographer may produce a wedding video. They then need to deliver that. Sending those large files over a choked upstream connection can be very frustrating.

Until recently, symmetric Internet connections have been very expensive. They still are for the most part, but fiber optic providers have been recently coming on the scene and fiber is more suitable to these symmetric connections, or at least have so much more total bandwidth available that carving them up like coax or twisted pair isn’t as necessary.

West Michigan fiber providers such as AcenTek, LightSpeed, ACD and a few others are delivering fiber optic Internet service to our area at very reasonable prices. While their footprints are expanding, they’re still relatively small compared to their asymmetric cousins.

So, what’s a business to do if they only have access to these tired, asymmetric, snail slow upstream connections?

We think a novel solution is to produce in the cloud. If you’re actually doing the work on a terminal server, hosted workstation, or other remote application, then you’re creating your product at a location served by extremely high speed Internet service.

Take Amazon Workspaces for example. This service from Amazon Web Services is a hosted cloud workstation, with a symmetric gigabit (1000 megabit) Internet connection. So, if you’re doing your video editing, CAD drawings, or other bandwidth hungry work in the cloud, then you don’t need much of an Internet connection at your business or home office.

Services like Workspaces come with other benefits too. Instead of having your work tied to a desktop computer, or being limited by the compute power in a laptop, a hosted solution gives you access to massive power on virtually any device. Mobile phones, tablets and regular desktops all become clients of that cloud workstation. It also takes away the fear of having hardware stolen as very little data actually resides locally. And of course, when it comes time to email out a drawing, or upload a video to a web host, it happens at breakneck speed; not over some sad 4 megabit cable upstream connection.

We’re big fans of this kind of technology because our clients tell us it solves a problem they didn’t really know they had. Once switched over to this kind of platform, things just happen easier and the technology gets out of the way so business can get done.