The pandemic taught everyone many lessons about everything from hygiene to baking. One of the most important takeaways is the essential need for reliable Internet service for working, learning and connecting with people.
Yet many homebuyers and renters simply assume that Internet service will be available and adequate to meet their needs. Whether you’re renting an apartment in a new neighborhood, staying at a vacation home in a rural area or buying a new home in a different city, asking about Internet service should be on your checklist.
We asked Arie Barendrecht, founder and chief executive of WiredScore, a digital connectivity rating service that works with landlords to assess their buildings, for tips about how consumers can check out their Internet reliability before moving. He responded to our questions via email.
Q: How can renters find out about connectivity/Internet speed in an apartment?
A: Before signing a lease, a renter should ask the building manager which Internet service providers serve the building and then compare costs and speed options available. If a renter is already living in the building, they can test their current connection speed on Fast.com or Speedtest by Ookla. This will show the download speed, and, if you click “Show more info” on Fast.com, you will also see the upload speed.
If the speed test gives a significantly different number from what the Internet service provider advertised, try moving closer to the router or carry out the same test over a wired connection by connecting a laptop to the router with a network cable. If this does not improve your speed, get in touch with your building manager or Internet service provider.
Q: Can homebuyers follow a similar approach or does this just apply to apartment buildings?
A: With multifamily buildings, the building team should be able to provide this information. Failing that, services such as BroadbandNow and DecisionData can let homebuyers know what Internet service providers are available at their potential new home’s address.
Q: What is the optimal Internet speed for average use? What about someone working at home who needs fast downloads/high capacity for big files?
A: Broadband performance is predominantly based on download speed and can be broken into three groups:
• 25 Mbps + broadband
• 100 Mbps + highspeed broadband
• 1000 Mbps + ultrafast broadband
Generally, upload speeds have been about 10% of download speeds. Until now, we have consumed content from the Internet via streaming more than we have created it, so it makes sense that Internet service providers optimized their networks for greater download than upload speeds. However, as video calls became much more critical during the pandemic, the ability to get data “up” to the Internet is more important than ever.
Zoom suggests having the following speeds for both upload and download to get the best out of their services: from 0.5 Mbps to 1.8 Mbps for one-to-one video calling and from 1 to 3 Mbps for group video calling.
The quality of the video will depend on how high that number is. For example, if the Internet upload speed shows 10 Mbps, then a 1 Mbps upload speed would simply not be the best quality Zoom video call. It’s also worth noting that an hour for video conferencing equates to up to 1 GB of data, something to be very aware of if someone is on a metered or capped tariff, such as their mobile.
The other figure to note for optimal Internet performance is latency, which shows the time delay of a broadband connection. Latency is measured in milliseconds (0.001 of a second), but it can make us feel disconnected from others in video calls if it is excessive or inconsistent.
If someone is struggling with a slow connection, I would suggest calling their service provider to see about other available packages. Most Internet service providers have two or three tiers of speeds and pricing available, so weighing your options is prudent.
Q: Is there a way to measure or evaluate cybersecurity in an apartment building?
A: Our WiredScore Home certification evaluates residential buildings for their capacity for great digital connectivity. A core component of our scorecard is security and we rate buildings according to how secure the infrastructure for connectivity equipment is. This way, residents have full transparency of the building’s digital capabilities before moving into an apartment building.
Q: What can renters control about their Internet service — can they upgrade equipment or anything to improve speed?
A: If renters are having problems with speed, we can recommend as a first step using our Guide to Improving Your Internet When Working From Home (bit.ly/3xJJrwQ). Failing this, renters should check in with their provider about any firmware or software updates available for their router. This will likely lead to performance and security enhancements.
They should also make sure to pick the right network. Most routers can broadcast two wireless networks; 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. While the 2.4 GHz network gives better range, the 5 GHz network provides higher speed or bandwidth at shorter distances and is less congested. This is because 2.4 GHz is used by most networks and other devices, including the microwave.
A router may already be broadcasting both and give the option to choose one over the other. If it doesn’t, you should be able to use different names for the two networks by going into the basic settings of your router. This will give you the ability to recognize which network you are connected to and prioritize the 5 GHz network for your work devices.
The networks used by people around you can often also cause congestion and interference with your signal. You can download free software like Wi-Fi Analyzer for Windows to see all the networks nearby and what channel they use. If your network overlaps, consider switching to a less congested channel. You may be able to conduct this scan directly when logged into your router. Once you have identified the best option, select the appropriate channel within your router settings to ensure minimal overlapping networks.
Q: Many people opted to move to different locations during the pandemic, including remote areas or resort areas that may have less robust Internet services. How does someone check that and what they can do about it?
A: Services such as BroadbandNow and DecisionData can let homebuyers know what Internet service providers are available at their potential new home’s address. We then recommend following the steps outlined in our Guide to Improving Your Internet When Working From Home.
Your mobile provider may offer you a better service option, as another solution. Most modern smartphones give you the option to hotspot from them. This creates a portable Wi-Fi network that you can connect to. On the iPhone, this can be found by going to Settings — Personal Hotspot. If you find that your mobile connection is the best way of accessing the Internet, you may want to consider buying a dedicated mobile hotspot and contract from your mobile operator.
It’s also possible to increase your bandwidth by using Wi-Fi and your mobile network concurrently. This also gives you a backup connection should there be issues with your broadband connection while working. Speedify is one redundancy service that can provide this.
Thinking longer-term, if someone is still experiencing Wi-Fi issues after taking the actions above, consider using a Powerline solution or installing a Wi-Fi mesh network. Powerline uses a home’s electrical circuit to transmit the Internet signal between two points through the house. For example, you could install one adapter next to your router and another next to your working position. The network will use the electrical circuit as if it was a physical network cable between the two adapters.