The pandemic changed American life and it accelerated companies embracing an inevitability: work from home. That change is here to stay. In fact, a recent survey of employers ranging from small businesses to large corporations found that two-thirds of them plan to continue remote working. This transition has also made employees who often work in a state of travel much more common. With this type of worker in mind, our team studied the various Internet options available to them.
Requirements for Remote Working While Travelling
Just as with remote working from home, you need reliable Internet, but access to it is much more limited. You generally have three core options: public Wi-Fi, wireless and satellite internet.
Wireless Is the Top Option but With Some Caveats
If you want the fastest Internet service available while traveling, then wireless is the clear winner. It generally provides the best coverage as well, but that can change quickly in some rural areas. In addition, the further you move away from urban centers, the slower your speeds are likely to be.
To use your cellular plan for Internet access, you will need to set up a mobile hotspot. This is typically simple to do, and most wireless carriers include hotspot access in their mobile plans. The problem is that access involves data caps. AT&T and Verizon, for instance, include 15 to 30 GB in their plans. You can chew through that fast when video conferencing. When you hit the cap, you still have access but will be downgraded to a lower tier of service, which means less speed and issues with Zoom and the like.
How Much Data Do You Actually Need?
If your remote work is limited to email, web browsing, and spreadsheets, then the basic mobile hotspot access offered by the major wireless carriers is more than enough. You can even squeeze in the occasional meeting on Zoom. If you do a lot of video conferencing, however, then the recommendation is to plan for 3 GB per hour required.
Public Wi-Fi Is Intriguing but Generally Falls Short
Public Wi-Fi is free to use and access is becoming widespread, particularly in urban centers. The downside is that the average public Wi-Fi provides about 3 Mbps of bandwidth. While Zoom says that this is enough for 720p HD video, in practice, it rarely is. Video conferencing on public Wi-Fi is simply not something you can rely on, but you typically can depend on it for email, web browsing and accessing Slack.
Satellite Is Probably Better Than You Think
Satellite gets a bad rap because the earliest incarnations of it were terrible. But it has improved considerably and is about to take another leap forward due to Starlink from SpaceX. If travel takes you through rural areas, you may find that satellite is actually a better option for you than wireless.
But be mindful that satellite Internet aimed at consumers is generally designed to be stationary. Companies like HughesNet and DISH have recently added mobile to their plans, but this will increase your startup costs by a lot. RV Internet systems, for instance, generally start at between $5,000 and $7,000 and can get significantly more expensive.
Combining the Power of Wireless and Public Wi-Fi
Make the most of your available bandwidth by only using what you have to when you have to. Stick to a schedule but tailor that schedules around the resources you have available. Most remote workers can meet much of their responsibilities via public Wi-Fi and fall back to a mobile hotspot only when needed.