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Home Internet Tips

Someone typing on a laptop with the caption: Technology tips for managing with lower-speed connections

Over the coming weeks, many Virginia Tech faculty, staff, and students will be working through internet connections that may not be as fast as what we were able to access on campus. These steps are intended to help you navigate the process of improving your connection, or finding alternative means to connect while still maintaining social distancing so that you can complete your work effectively. For help connecting to online learning as a student, please read these technology FAQs from Student Success Initiatives

Knowing your connection speed can help you figure out what your connection can handle. It’s good to try multiple speed tests to get a fuller picture of your speed over time—reliable options for speed tests include Ookla, Speed of Me, and DSL Reports.

Here are some basic minimums:

  • For general web surfing, email, or social media 1 Mbps
  • For video conferencing 1-4 Mbps
  • For standard definition (SD) video streaming 3-4 Mbps
  • For HD video streaming 5-8 Mbps

Most DSL or satellite carriers can offer speeds that meet these basic requirements. Try to connect to the services you will use most often to see how they perform. You can also join a ‘test’ Zoom meeting here.

Contact your internet carrier and inquire about the availability and cost of higher tiers of service. You can also consider obtaining a WiFi hotspot from a local cellular carrier, or tether to your mobile device (be aware that this may raise your data costs). Many internet and cellular carriers are offering discounts on internet service upgrades during this pandemic, and many have signed a pledge not to cancel service or charge late fees during this crisis.

Many carriers and some government programs are also offering low-cost internet plans that may be available in your area. EDUCAUSE has compiled an extensive list of low- and no-cost internet options from national carriers (scroll below the university continuity plans to view the options). 

If your connection meets the minimum 1 - 1.5 Mbps requirement, you will still need to do some optimizing to get your work done. When it’s time for online work, be sure that the connection is as unburdened as possible. Talk with your family and agree on the best ways to facilitate work during each day. Set up a schedule for when gaming, entertainment, school work, or other non-work uses will take place, so that maximum bandwidth is available for your work activities.

Consider installing a WiFi router that uses ‘smart queueing’ to improve performance when your internet connection is being used by multiple applications and/or users.  Read more about how 'smart queuing' can help at bufferbloat.net.

Many online applications (such as Zoom, for example) have the capability to dynamically adjust their bandwidth consumption depending on your connection. To further reduce your utilization of available bandwidth during a live-streamed meeting or conference, be sure to turn off your video.

The activity that uses the highest amount of bandwidth is live-streamed multidirectional video and audio sharing. We are encouraging professors and instructors to pre-record lectures and other video content whenever possible so that during this crisis, there is less need for the most bandwidth-intensive types of content.

If your home internet connection will not suffice, you may need to explore local options for community-access WiFi. Be sure to let your supervisor and coworkers know that this is the method you will need to use to work online and discuss how best you can communicate during this time, such as through telephone calls or Zoom phone meetings.

Once you find one or more good resources, you can develop a routine of going to your WiFi location once or twice each day to upload/download documents, send emails, check reports, etc.

Remember that while at a public access internet connection, it is best to stick with sites that are secure — look for HTTPS in the URL. Also, to maintain social distancing, remain in your vehicle if possible.

Possibilities include:

  • Connecting through eduroam: Your Virginia Tech network credentials can get you connected to high-speed WiFi networks at eduroam-participating educational institutions across the U.S., including Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Centers, Virginia Cooperative Extension Centers, and in more than 100 countries around the world.
  • Multiple commercial carriers like Comcast/Xfinity and Charter/Spectrum are offering free WiFi connectivity at thousands of hotspot locations throughout the U.S. through the duration of this crisis. Check with your local providers for details.
  • Schools, community centers, churches, and libraries: Many community organizations and government facilities offer open WiFi, and it can often be accessed from the parking lot.
  • Businesses and restaurants: Many local businesses may offer open WiFi as well. Please observe current public health guidelines.

Ut Prosim

We know none of this is easy, but we all need to do our part to flatten the curve of this pandemic. We are here to support you in this new work environment. 4Help agents are ready to help you assess your options and to help with any technology questions or problems you may have. Keep in mind that the best source of help for issues with your internet speed or capacity is your internet service provider.