Broadband in Plain English for Remote Workers

Broadband. This is the most crucial aspect of remote working.

For many jobs, productivity and progress are directly tied to the availability and reliability of broadband.

My ability to access broadband is the most important part of my daily “commute”. Just as reliable transportation for an employee is an unspoken expectation, broadband for a remote worker carries the same weight.

Factors In Picking Broadband

Before we go into the summary of evaluating a broadband connection, let us define the attributes of an internet connection. Using these attributes we can quantify the quality of a connection, how it will perform, and finally use it to compare various connectivity options.


Bandwidth – This is the general term used to describe the overall speed of a connection. To use a plumbing analogy, you can think of this as “the size of a pipe in which water is flowing through”. In reality though, there are two directions of “water” flow when discussing an internet connection; download and upload.

Download – This is the measured speed at which data is sent “down” from the internet to you, the end user. In the majority of connections, this is the fastest side of the connection. These days (in 2014) connections are usually rated in “Mega-bits” (Mbps). Connections in the 6-30 Mbps range are common. Some of the fastest connections (Such as Google fiber) are rated in “Giga-bits” (Gbps) which is 1,000 Mbps.

Upload – This is the measured speed at which data is sent from you “up” to the internet. This speed is measured in “Kilo-bits” or Mbps (Kbps or Mbps/1000; 1,000 Kbps = 1 Mbps). Speeds in the range of 768 Kbps to 5 Mbps are common. In the majority of internet connections, the upload speed is much slower than the download speed. For example, my connection is a 12 Mbps / 1.5 Mbps [down / up] cable internet connection.

Latency – The latency of a connection is the amount of time that it takes for a packet of data to travel from point A to point B over a connection. (It can be the measurement of one-way or of round trip.) Latency is generally measured in “milli-seconds” (ms) which is 1/1,000th of a second. Amazing connections have round trip latency of around 30 ms. Average connections have a latency in the range of 40 – 100 ms. Satellite connections have a latency of roughly 600+ ms.

Transfer Quotas – The transfer quota is the total amount of data you can send/receive (upload and/or download) over a given period of time. This aspect of an internet connection has increasingly become of issue with users consuming services such as Netflix and YouTube.

The quotas are in most cases measured in “Giga-bytes” (GB). Worth noting is that “Giga-bytes” and “Giga-bits” (measurement of speed) are different. There are 8 “bits” in 1 “byte”. So to get the “bytes” from a “bits” measurement simply divide by 8. So transferring data at full speed over a 1 Gbps (giga-bit) connection for 8 seconds will equate to 1 GB (giga-byte) worth of data (in theory in a perfect world). (Storage on hard drives, USB drives, etc. is measured in “bytes”.)

The amount of data transferred over the course of a month can vary widely for a remote worker. E-mail is usually of little consequence to the quota. Video and screen sharing as well as syncing large files over Dropbox can quickly add up. Average monthly transfer amounts (ignoring Netflix or non-work related use) can range from 20 GB to upwards of 80 GB depending upon applications used and your job role.

Bonus Terms

Symmetric vs. Asymmetric – The relationship of upload and download speeds can be described as “Symmetric” or “Asymmetric”. A symmetric connection is one in which both upload and download speeds are equal. Google fiber, for example, is a symmetric connection of 1 Gbps / 1 Gbps (download / upload). An asymmetric connection is one in which upload and download differ. My cable internet connection is an asymmetric connection. The download speed is 12 Mbps and upload speed is 1.5 Mbps. Nerd Alert: ADSL stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line.

Broadband Technology Options

Connections are described as download / upload. So a 12 Mbps / 1.5 Mbps connection has a download speed of 12 and an upload of 1.5. Below are the most common broadband technologies.


DSL connections are generally the most common connections available in household markets. DSL connections are generally limited in the bandwidth available as well as greatly limiting availability of speeds in relation to how far a customer is from the phone company’s central office. Connections are asymmetric.


Cable connections are a step up from DSL connections in terms of available speeds and general reliability (for most people). They average the same latency as DSL connections. The defining characteristics for cable connections are the available upload speeds and any data caps (which are generally very high). Connections are asymmetric.

Terrestrial Wireless

Terrestrial Wireless connections are internet connections via land based towers. Cell phone providers have entered the data connectivity markets. Examples of these connections are often described as “3G” or “4G” connections. These connections have much higher latency than DSL or Cable connections and much stricter data quotas. Connections are asymmetric.


Satellite connections are a last resort for many people in rural areas. Latency is greatest for these connections in the range of close to 600+ ms (it is a long way to the satellite, back to earth, and then back again). Transfer speeds can be decent if you are willing to subscribe to premium packages. These connections usually have strict data quotas and are more expensive overall with multi-year commitments are part of most contracts. Connections are asymmetric.


Connections are symmetric. This is the holy grail of internet connectivity. If you have a fiber connection at 1 Gbps you have basically achieved broadband “singularity” with the internet. You are the internet in the most practical sense. If you have one of these connections and do not have a “command center”! In most markets the pricing is generally very affordable.

  Download Upload  
Technology Latency Transfer Quotas Example Providers
DSL 1.5-12 Mbps 256 Kbps to 1.5 Mbps Your local telephone company
40-150 ms None
Cable 3-50 Mbps 768 Kbps to 8 Mbps Charter, Cox, Comcast, TimeWarner
40-150 ms 30-400 GB
Terrestrial Wireless 400 Kbps to 12 Mbps 400 Kbps to 2-5 Mbps 4G LTE, 3G
150 ms 10-30 GB
Satellite 5-15 Mbps 1-2 Mbps Hughes, Excede
600 ms 10-40 GB
Fiber 20 Mbps to 1 Gbps 20 Mbps to 1 Gbps
(Generally symmetrical)
Google fiber, Verizon FiOS
20-150 ms Generally uncapped

Testing Your Connection

You may not be aware of how fast your connection is, but there is a simple way to find out. You can use speed test tools such as by ookla or Speedtest by Be aware though that your test results may vary greatly based upon the time of day. You may receive slower results in the evenings when video streaming is popular than in the middle of the day.

Results of My Speedtest
My connection results

Connecting It All

The most important requirement for myself and remote working has been internet connectivity. For the type of work that I do I need at least a 6 Mbps [down] / 1.5 Mbps [up] connection. I’ve worked over cellular and wireless connections with marginal results and as needed.

It is worth the investment in your connectivity. Nothing stops productivity faster than an internet connection going down. When we purchased a house in Northern Wisconsin, one of the greatest factors in the decision was internet connectivity. Before we even scheduled a showing of a property I had assessed what connectivity was available. Where we live has many rural locations with amazing properties, yet Satellite would be the only option. For me, that was a deal breaker.

As for connectivity recommendations, consider in order of preference: Fiber, Cable, DSL, Terrestrial Wireless, and finally Satellite.

And the final take away:

Consider your broadband connection as one of your marketable attributes as a remote worker.

Happy remote working!

Bonus Links

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