It's time to speed up your business network

Now, companies need the fastest possible Internet service more than ever.

A friend of mine recently wrote about the "joys" of having slow Internet in Grand Bahamas. Of course, he was there on vacation; for me, vacation is just a word in the dictionary. I'm the kind of person who used to send in stories using a 300-baud acoustic modem on a payphone. Now, that was slow!

But, for work today we need the fastest possible internet to our home offices and workplaces. That's because now more than ever, whether we're working from home, the office, or a combination of the two, we need fast with a capital "F" Internet.

As the analyst firm CCS Insight found in its latest Employee Workplace Technology Survey 2022, 37% of respondents said slow networks were the biggest connectivity frustration. This was followed by poor mobile signals, 30%; unreliable home Wi-Fi, 29%;  and corporate office Wi-Fi, 29%.

I feel your pain.

I'm working from our Myrtle Beach condo this week with its 5Mbps DSL Internet connection. Oh, how I long for my home office's Gigabit connection!

I had my nose rubbed into just how bad this was when a recent Zoom meeting stuttered its way into oblivion. Today, by CCS Insight's count, businesses rely on video meeting programs such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom as never before. In 2021, the use of online video conferencing jumped by 50%.

At the same time, ye olde telephone calls are dropping fast in popularity. Their survey showed that desk phone and mobile phone calls were down 20%. In its place, people are using instant messaging systems such as Slack and, you guessed it, videoconferencing apps.

In comparison, a phone call, even if done using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), can take as little as 100 Kilobits per second (Kbps). A group Zoom call requires a minimum of 1Mbps up and 600kbps down per user. (Practically speaking, I'd triple those bandwidth requirements.)

Looking ahead, CCS Insight and yours truly see the use of desk phones decreasing quickly over the next 12 months. In their place, we'll see voice-only and video calls growing strongly.

This will have two business impacts.

The first is you'll need faster internet speeds to meet the demands for videoconferences. Second, it's time for you to reconsider how much you're paying for PBX and traditional phone services.

I'm not saying it's time to dump your PBX — it's not. But I can see the eventual end of business landline phones from here.

Of course, your home workers need all the fast internet they can get. They may not be sharing one Internet connection with a dozen other employees. Still, they are likely sharing it with kids playing video games and family members watching "The Batman" in 4K resolution on HBO Max.

While getting faster last-mile internet will help, you need more than that; you also need to speed up your local office network and Wi-Fi.

For actual speed, you still can't beat Gigabit Ethernet. Wi-Fi is all well and good, but it will never replace the Ethernet cable to the servers and the routers.

For most users, however, Wi-Fi is where it's at.

If you haven't updated your Wi-Fi access points and meshes since 2020, it's time to upgrade.

What you should look for is gear that supports Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax.

The big reason to upgrade is Wi-Fi 6 delivers an almost 40% increase in pure throughput over its immediate predecessor, Wi-Fi 5.

Behind the raw speed increase, Wi-Fi 6 also uses Multi-User, Multi-Input, Multiple Output (MU-MIMO), and Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) to let the Wi-Fi router split connections into eight simultaneous streams. The net result boosts the effective bandwidth per user four-fold.

Another Wi-Fi 6 feature, Target Wake Time (TWT), is a beneficial power-saving scheme. It enables Wi-Fi 6 devices to stay asleep until they need to send and receive data. This gives useful Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets like security cameras and video doorbells better battery life. It also helps smartphones and laptops.

You can get Wi-Fi 6 equipment for as little as $70, but you don't want to go cheap unless you have no choice.

The less expensive equipment doesn't have the CPU power or multi-Gigabit ports needed for top performance. Decent gear, such as the TP-Link Archer line and the Asus ZenWiFi ET8, goes for prices ranging from $200 to $500.

If you want even more speed and the ability to deal with dozens or hundreds of devices, you'll want to move up to Wi-Fi 6E. In particular, Wi-Fi 6E can handle multiple Internet addresses.

That happens more often than you might think. Today, every blasted piece of equipment in your home, including the refrigerator and washing machines, can have its own IP address.

Wi-Fi 6E is also faster than Wi-Fi 6. Indeed, the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6E is the first Wi-Fi router I've ever tested that can actually deliver a Gigabit-per-second signal over the air.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Wi-Fi 6E hardware is expensive.

Prices start at around $400, and my Orbi Wi-Fi 6E mesh cost me a cool $1,500. On the other hand, it also covers two buildings with 3,500 square feet.

So, you do get what you pay for.

Finally, as you consider your internet and network future, remember that a network is only as fast as your slowest link.

If your laptops, for example, are still using the obsolete 802.11n Wi-Fi chipsets, they still can't go any faster than 300Mbps, even if they're sitting on top of a 6E router pumping out a 1Gbps signal.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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