Here’s how much internet bandwidth you actually need to work from home. Millions of North American students and employees lack the necessary connection.

Working from home is often more complicated than it sounds. When your job consists mostly of typing away on your laptop and fending off a never-ending parade of Slack messages, it seems easy enough to do it from just about anywhere. But in reality, not every home is set up to double as a workplace.

Internet services typically require minimum connection requirements, whether you actually know about them or not. Netflix, for instance, requires a connection of 25 Mbps if you want to stream its highest-quality content and a bare minimum of just 3 Mbps if you want to stream even standard definition content.

Once you start taking more meetings from home, it’s no longer about whether you’re going to get the true 4K picture quality when you’re watching Stranger Things, but whether you’ll be able to talk to your bosses, coworkers, and clients.

If you’re curious about what kind of upload and download speeds you’re actually getting, you can try a speed test, which will give you a real-world look at your device’s performance. Even if you pay for fancy 1000 Mbps speeds, you likely won’t get close to that, at least over a sustained time. Even though my connection is capable of 1000 Mbps, my laptop regularly sees download speeds around 500 Mbps.) That’s still very fast compared to the national average of 64 Mbps, but it also changes as I move around my house.

Internet Speed Test - Test your Internet connection bandwidth

It’s worth doing the test a few times from different points within your living space to see if there’s a considerable drop-off from one spot to another. The couch may seem like a comfortable place to work, but if your Wi-Fi signal struggles to make it over there, it may cause trouble.

If you have several people working from home, including students, it can tax your connection. The latest version of Wi-Fi, known as Wi-Fi 6, is better at handling multiple heavy streams at once; even if your laptop or devices are compatible with the new protocol, though, the routers required to dish out those speeds are still relatively uncommon and fairly expensive.

Minimum Requirements

Not every productivity app requires a fat internet pipe. If you’re just sending email or typing into Slack, even a basic airport-grade connection will do just fine. Stepping up to voice and video chat, however, might severely test your limits.

Here are the basics for the most common video-chat options:


Zoom’s bandwidth requirements – Zoom

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts bandwidth requirements – Google Hangouts


Slack’s bandwidth requirements for calling. – Slack

Cutting your video feed and concentrating solely on the audio will save you some data usage—and let you skip brushing your hair or putting on a presentable shirt. But if you have to share your screen or actually appear on camera, you’ll need to meet the minimum requirements shown above.

If you have to access your company’s local servers via a VPN service, you’re bound to encounter even more variables. Even if your connection to the web is fast, its performance over the VPN could be considerably slower, especially if it’s crowded and you need to work with large files like magazine pages with high-res imagery.

Who has the speed they need?

Since 2016, the FCC has done considerable chest-beating about its efforts to bring broadband to more rural and remote communities. In February 2019, the commission claimed that the number of Americans lacking access to steady 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload connections dropped from 26.1 million in 2016 to 19.4 million at the end of 2017. The report also claimed a 20-percent jump in those with access to 100 Mbps/10 Mbps connections, and a 45-percent hike in 250 Mbps/50 Mbps links.

Internet Speed Test - Test your Internet connection bandwidth

The FCC later appended that report, admitting that it left out roughly 1.9 million people lacking a solid connection. In early 2020, a study from an independent company known as BroadbandNow estimated that the real number of Americans without access to stable broadband sits more in the 42.8 million range, which is double the federal government’s claim. While the FCC keeps a map of fixed broadband deployment to show how many options residents in specific areas have when it comes to broadband coverage, it’s difficult to truly assess how accurate it is (the information is from December of 2018, which makes it well over two years old).

The ability to work from home, however, doesn’t simply apply to employees in offices: It’s also affecting students. The “digital divide” regarding students’ overall access to technology has been a topic of conversation for more than two decades, but in recent years, the so-called “homework gap” has become a more prominent topic of conversation. In 2019 an AP report estimated that 17 percent of students didn’t have access to a computer at home, while 18 percent didn’t have reliable broadband access.

Even when students have their own devices issued to them by the school, they’re often Google Chromebooks, which rely on the internet for most of their critical functionality and makeup roughly 60 percent of the educational market. Most states, including New York, have told schools to prepare contingencies for students to learn remotely in case of a long closure to contain the novel coronavirus. Exactly what those contingencies should be, however, is unclear.

The Miami-Dade school district has said that it has 200,000 electronic devices ready to loan out to students in case the need to stay at home But, as Fast Company points out, not all parents can work remotely, which means students may end up in daycare or other programs without access to an internet connection.

Roughly 180 million children in China have been affected by quarantine-related school closures. Techniques for remote learning there have spanned from existing technologies like Zoom—the same platform you might use to work from home—to custom platforms built quickly to operate on a massive scale. Reports claim that Chinese students have tried to inundate DingTalk, an app used for remote learning, with enough bad reviews that it would get kicked from the app stores and make remote learning more difficult or impossible.

For both students and employees, there’s real potential for extended home stints becoming the norm, at least until the COVID-19 crisis completely unfolds. Just how effectively they can go about their daily lives, however, could be a matter of Mbps.

Stan HoraczekPopular Science

Factors That Affect Speed
Factors That Affect Your Internet Speed


With our faster Internet speeds, outdated equipment may not be able to keep up. Your internet speed heavily depends on your network equipment, such as the router or cable. For example, an ethernet connection is generally more stable and quicker than Wi-Fi. If you’re using a Wi-Fi connection, your internet speed might decrease as more devices connect to the same network. Last, but not least, your online work might be slowed down by the hardware of the computer itself – for example, if you have a weak processor.

If your computer is plugged directly into your router, or if you’re lucky enough to have Ethernet cabling throughout the house, it’s worth checking the cabling. While electrical cabling might last for 50 years or more, network cabling has undergone several important upgrades that affect the speed it can carry data.


Technology has forever changed the world we live in. We’re online, in one way or another, all day long. Our phones and computers have become reflections of our personalities, our interests, and our identities. They hold much that is important to us.

The easiest way to check is to look at the cable. You should see a Cat number specification somewhere:

  • Cat-5 is the oldest and slowest network cable still in use. Performance is limited to 100 Mbps.
  • Cat-5e is the most commonly used network cables today; supports Gigabit Ethernet (1,000 Mbps).
  • Cat-6/6a is fastest network cabling in common usage and supports up to 10 Gigabit (10,000 Mbs).

If Cat-5 cable is used on your computers or as the backbone of your network, your Ethernet cable may be slowing down the Wi-Fi. Network cables can also be quite delicate. Use a cable tester to ensure each of the eight wires inside the cable is still connected to the other end.

Solution: Replace any Cat-5 rated or broken cabling you find with Cat-5e or Cat-6 rated cables.

Factors That Affect Speed


You have the power to improve your WiFi performance just by where you place it. If your router is in the front of your house and your bedroom is in the back, you may be accustomed to seeing that spinning wheel of death while waiting for your Netflix to buffer. The severity depends on many things: your home’s construction, your router, your provider…lots of things.

Regardless of the other hurdles, where you put your router matters. An important thing to remember is that the signal from a router broadcasts in all directions from the antenna, so it’s useful to think of signal strength in terms of a radius of broadcast. If your router is next to a wall adjacent to your neighbor’s apartment, they’re getting that slice of your signal, not you (obvious pro-tip: password protect your Wi-Fi right now).

Here are some other tips for optimal placement of your wireless router to get a stronger signal.

Keep it central

Location is key. Try to find the most central home for your router that you can—and don’t consider the placement of your desktop computer or home modem to be a limiting factor. It’s worth buying some Ethernet Cat 5 cable and run the wire to the most central location you can.

Consider even mounting the router on a wall or in a corner by the ceiling if you have two floors because radio waves generally spread out and towards the ground, not up. Think about putting your router on the second floor if you have one.

Avoid impenetrable obstructions

Radio waves certainly travel through walls, but the thicker the wall, the weaker the signal will be on the other side. And if your home is fortified with brick or concrete walls, the signal is going to be absorbed by the wall and lose significant strength when traveling through it. Same goes for water, like your big fish tank, which can cause a lot of resistance for your signal.

Metal and mirrors are also your enemy because those materials actually reflect radio waves, so putting the router behind a TV or in a bathroom is ill advised.


Technology has forever changed the world we live in. We’re online, in one way or another, all day long. Our phones and computers have become reflections of our personalities, our interests, and our identities. They hold much that is important to us.

Avoid the kitchen

When it comes to battling any potential buffering of your Wi-Fi signal, the microwave is not your friend. Microwaves and Wi-Fi routers operate using the same 2.4 gHz slice of the electromagnetic spectrum. When you use the microwave, it’s literally interfering with your Wi-Fi signal. Additionally, metal objects will absorb a signal, and with a metal fridge, stove, and other kitchen appliances, it’s probably best to just keep the router out of the kitchen.

The same frequency is also used for cordless phones—so don’t keep your cordless phone base station near the router either.

Set It Up High

WiFi routers emit radio waves, which spread out and down from their source. Mounting the router to a wall or setting it on a high shelf can give you a better signal, especially if you live in a two-story house and want a good connection on both floors.

Position the Antenna

In a multi-story home, positioning a router’s antenna sideways can help you get a better signal upstairs. Pointing an antenna up helps the router reach farther laterally.

If your router has two antennas, though, take care of all possibilities by pointing one antenna up and the other to the side. And if you’ve got a router without any antennas, make sure you stand it the way it’s made to go. That is, don’t lay a vertical router on its side.

Avoid A Lot of People

Water inhibits WiFi signals. Since humans are mostly water, a bunch of us hanging out in a room together can interfere with the signal. You may have noticed getting worse Internet connections in crowded spaces. And yes, you probably want a good WiFi signal in the room where people like to gather, but all those bodies might slow it down in other parts of the house.

BONUS: Use Cole’s app, which lets you visualize the WiFi connection in your own house

If you’re so inclined, Cole created an app for Android phones that lets you upload a floorplan to see how electromagnetic waves propagate throughout your own home. (Some math required. Sorry.)

Factors That Affect Speed
Factors That Affect Your Internet Speed


Most wireless access points and wireless routers can theoretically have 255 devices connected at a time. That represents a lot of computers, smartphones, tablets, cameras, and other devices and probably far exceeds the needs of the typical home. However, just because you can theoretically connect 255 computers to a single Wi-Fi router/access point doesn’t mean you should.

When multiple devices are online at the same time, it can slow down WiFi across your entire household. You may notice that when you connect your laptop, a couple of PCs, and some smartphones to your network, it’s much harder to stream on your TV. Perhaps the movie stalls or looks fuzzy or you start receiving connection errors.

Keep in mind that each computer or device that’s added to your network will reduce the bandwidth available to the other devices using the same Internet connection. That’s because all these devices are sharing not only the same wireless network, but they’re also sharing the same Internet connection from your broadband service provider. In this case, the bottleneck isn’t necessarily with the wireless connections, but it’s with the amount of traffic or bandwidth that can pass through the Internet router to your broadband service provider.


Technology has forever changed the world we live in. We’re online, in one way or another, all day long. Our phones and computers have become reflections of our personalities, our interests, and our identities. They hold much that is important to us.

It’s as if your network says, ‘Oh, you’re using your phone right now? No problem, let me pull some strength from that movie that’s hogging so much space.’

Since we know that in the home network, the performance of a shared Internet connection will degrade as more computers and devices try to access the Web simultaneously, the big question is how many devices can share the Internet connection at once before you get a slow down?

A general rule of thumb is to limit the number of simultaneous connections on your home network to 45. However, the specific number is going to vary widely depending on what each of those devices is doing. For example, downloading MP4s or large files requires much more bandwidth than checking email or simple Web browsing. Likewise, if the network is hosting Web, FTP, or Gaming servers, the recommended limit for the number of network connections may be much lower.

Factors That Affect Speed

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