What Will Happen to Your Home Internet Speed if Everyone Works From Home at the Same Time

A lot has changed since COVID-19 came into our lives. Orders from state or local governments requiring us to limit our movements in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus have canceled events, slowed economies and resulted in weeks or months in our pajamas. Many of us who are used to commuting are now working from home. Add to that all the kids attempting to finish up the school year via virtual classrooms, and that translates to a whole lot more internet use than usual in a typical home. 

When several members of the household are attempting to work from home at the same time, downloading files and attending online meetings, each user may experience choppy connections and increased loading times as devices compete for bandwidth. Now even those with lightning-fast internet may be asking, “why is my internet so slow?”

What happens to internet speed if everyone is working from home?

Internet slowdowns happen when multiple people in a household, or even many people in the neighborhood, are all trying to use the internet connection at the same time. 

There could be an internet bottleneck in your wireless frequency or through your internet connection itself. Wireless frequencies are the paths that information travels through between various household devices like cordless phones, microwaves, and, yes, your wireless router. 

If the issue is with your connection, the problem may lie outside your control to a certain degree. When you have cable internet, you’re sharing the bandwidth available through a cable that runs down your street and is shared by others with internet connections. 

What you can do about slow internet

There are some things you can do if you’re wondering how to do deal with slow internet:

•    Fix your frequency: Your router might have a selection switch on it to let you choose between 2.4 GHz and 5GHz frequencies.  Often, routers will be set by default to 2.4 GHz because signals can travel further on it to reach all corners of your house. However, because it’s so often the default frequency for household items, it’s also more crowded. One solution to improve WiFi speed is to use the 5 GHz setting. You may have to position your wireless device closer to the router on this frequency, but you should get more speed in return.

•    Remove any signal interference: Your internet speed may suffer if certain materials between your device and your router interrupt the signals moving between them. Things like reinforced walls or major appliances can affect your signal strength. Clear a more direct path between your router and your device to get optimal service.

•    Check for viruses: Typically, people suspect a virus if their computer is processing slowly. But a virus can also slow down your internet speeds. That’s because a virus often tries to replicate itself by sending copies through email, using up bandwidth in the background while you try to stream your favorite Netflix series. Run some antivirus software on your computer to keep these pesky guys at bay.

•    Upgrade your internet package: If none of the above is the problem and you’re still having issues with your internet speed, consider whether you need a new internet plan. Maybe you’re not buying enough bandwidth to support the household load, especially in these times of peak need. Many internet services will slow down your speeds after you’ve used a certain amount of data each month. Check with your provider to see if you can add on extra data for a few months at a time, or if you need to update your package and agree to terms to purchase more bandwidth.

How much speed do you need?

You may be wondering just how much internet speed you need to keep your household running smoothly. The answer depends on how many people will be trying to use the internet at any single time, and what they’ll be doing with it. Internet speeds are measured in megabits per second (Mbps). Often internet packages allow for different speeds depending on whether you’re downloading or uploading. Anything at or over 25 Mbps download is considered high speed, although if you’re hoping to stream high-definition videos, you’ll almost certainly require more. Here are some examples of what you can do with each speed of internet:

•    15 Mbps: General browsing, shopping online, banking, etc.

•    25 Mbps: Some online gaming, consistent social media use, some audio or video streaming

•    50 Mbps: Video chats, more consistent video streaming, high-definition streaming

•    100 Mbps: Multiple users streaming at one time (up to five devices), downloading large files, frequent online gaming, streaming high-definition shows or movies

How to do a speed test

You can run a quick and easy speed test to gauge what internet speeds you’re actually getting. Doing a test might help you understand why you’re experiencing interruptions or poor performance when attempting online tasks. Often internet providers will offer a speed test on their websites, or you can try this one. Simply go to the website and click “go” to try it out. 

Should you upgrade your internet plan?

You might be thinking that a quick call to your internet provider could improve speeds and make your life easier. However, if you’re on cable or DSL, it might not be so easy to access additional bandwidth, even if you pay for it. 

Imagine all the households on your street are operating the same way your house is — everyone trying to use more bandwidth than usual with multiple streaming devices, downloads and video chats. When this happens, increasing your household’s bandwidth through a cable or DSL provider might not help because the cable is only bringing a limited capacity to the neighborhood at large. 

In some areas, residents can get fiber-optic internet promising speeds up to 250 Mbps. What’s amazing about fiber optic is the different technology it uses to transmit data, sidestepping some of the traffic problems that other connectivity types can suffer.

Households with fiber-optic internet get their own dedicated bandwidth and are not affected by the behavior of their neighbors. Slowdowns can still happen based on the activities of everyone else in your house, but since fiber-optic transmits so much data so quickly, you’re unlikely to notice any real slowdowns with this connection. Use our zip code tool to see what options you have for fiber internet near you.

The bottom line

Having millions of people simultaneously trying to work from home will no doubt tax our internet systems. But by checking all the above factors that affect connectivity, you can ensure you’re getting the fastest speeds possible to get your work done efficiently.