How much bandwidth do you need for distance learning?

Well folks, we’ve rolled into September, and it’s happened. So many of us watched our kids end school a few months ago, secure that we’d send them back to the classroom by now. For some parts of the country, that’s true. For other parts, it isn’t. A lot of kids are back to distance learning, and so it’s time to have that conversation.

Distance Learning 2.0

That’s what I’m calling it. A lot of school districts kept things light in the spring. They kept the number of zoom meetings pretty low, and kept assignments pretty simple. But, for schools that are returning to distance learning, we’re all realizing that can’t go on forever. Our kids have to learn. We can’t put their lives on pause forever.

And so, we enter into Distance Learning 2.0. There are more zooms, more interactive content, and more computer work. We’ve had some time to get our kids new laptops when we’ve needed to. But, will our home internet hold up?

When 100Mbps isn’t 100Mbps

In much of the cities and suburbs, it’s common for homes to have what’s referred to as “100Mbps service.” In other words, we can expect to download things up to 100 megabits per second. In theory this should be plenty of space for even ten people to be on Zoom at the same time. But, it usually isn’t. In order to understand why, you need to understand the dirty little secrets of how home internet works.

Home internet is “asymmetrical”

You may be able to download at 100 megabits per second. But, you may only be uploading at 10 megabits per second. Home internet providers optimize their connections for downloading, not for uploading.

Go to any speed test site. I prefer If you have a computer with a wired connection to the router, it will give you a better result.

You need about 5 megabits per second for a smooth Zoom experience. If your upload speed is less than that, people will probably see you as blurry or blocky. If your home upload speed is, for example, 20 megabits per second, you’ve got enough for four people.

The oversubscribing problem

The big problem with home internet is that it’s “oversubscribed.” This means that if everyone uses the internet at the same time, they won’t all get max speed. A single, 1000Mbps pipeline may serve 25 homes. The cable company is gambling that everyone won’t be using the internet at the same time. And yet, that’s usually exactly what happens. Neighborhoods tend to have some commonalities. Homes designed for families have families in them. Homes designed for younger professionals have young professionals in them.

And so, the problem shows up. When everyone wants to use Netflix at night, not everyone will get the best quality. It’s the same with distance learning. If your neighborhood is oversubscribed, you’ll have problem if everyone’s kids try to do distance learning at the same time.

Wi-Fi concerns

A lot of times people think they have slow internet, but they don’t. They actually have slow Wi-Fi. We tend to think of internet access as wireless. After all our phones don’t even have the ability to have wired connections.

Wi-Fi is pretty good if you’re within 20 feet of the router, especially if there are no walls between you and it. As you get further and further away, speeds go down and you’re more likely to have problems. If your kids are having problems with distance learning, see if things improve if they get closer to the router.

Also, there are folks who don’t like the look of their routers or access points and hide them behind books or in drawers. I hate to tell you folks, that’s about the worst thing you can do. You’re cutting the performance of that router in half or worse. At least while the kids are home, maybe take it out and don’t put anything else in front of it.

How to solve distance learning problems

The first thing to do is make sure your Wi-Fi isn’t working against you. You can get a mesh networking setup. Several sites sell different ones, but the one we recommend is the Ubiquiti system. Using Ubiquiti access points, you can create an enterprise-level networking system that blankets your home with Wi-Fi. You can really control what’s happening where using these systems.

Another option would be to upgrade phones or other devices to unlimited data. An unlimited plan from AT&T will let some of the people in your home stay off your home network or give them an option if the home internet is congested. Call us at 888-233-7563 to get started upgrading your phone service.

Finally, you can add a system like gotW3 to give you a second source of reliable high-speed internet. You can put the kids on this system, and keep the home internet for yourself. Or, the other way around if that makes more sense.

Bottom line

You will need a source of reliable, 5Mbps up/5Mbps down communication for every single person in the home. This includes kids doing distance learning. If you don’t have it, there are options. Call us at 888-233-7563 or fill out the form below to learn more!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.