- Wireless is the fastest option for work on-the-go, with average download speeds of 82 Mbps
- Public Wi-Fi is readily available in most places, with speeds around 4.5 Mbps on average
- Satellite internet offers solid speeds in remote locations without broadband access, but it’s expensive to take it on the road
The COVID-19 pandemic altered every aspect of life in 2020, forcing much of the country to work, learn and connect digitally for the first time. One of the pandemic’s ripple effects is clear in 2023: Remote work isn’t going anywhere.
According to one report, 47% of remote workers are more productive and spend 10 minutes less per day being unproductive.
Unshackled from the office, millions have moved during the pandemic, and many others have taken the opportunity to work in an extended state of travel.
The only requirement is a reliable internet connection. To help remote workers find the best option for their situation, we analyzed data from thousands of satellite and wireless connections to find out which ones provide the best speeds.
Our methodology: How we found average speeds for remote work
Our Allconnect team evaluated internal data on actual download speeds from satellite and wireless connection types recorded between August 2020 to March 2023. For this report, we analyzed more than 70,000 internet connections in the U.S.
Wireless is the fastest option, but most carriers have data caps
If you’re looking for the fastest speeds available for internet options for travelers, you probably don’t need to look any further than the smartphone that’s already in your pocket. Cellphone plans provide around 82 Mbps of download speed on average in the U.S., which is plenty for most remote work activities.
That said, you won’t get those fast speeds everywhere you go in the country. As you might expect, the best wireless connections are centered around urban areas. If you want to explore more far-flung locales — particularly in the western half of the country — you’ll probably struggle to find a data connection at all, let alone one strong enough to support working remotely.
To utilize your smartphone’s data plan for remote work, you’ll need to set up a mobile hotspot. Most wireless carriers include hotspot internet access on-the-go as part of their plans, but there’s typically a cap on how much data you can use with it and it’s often not included in the very cheapest phone plans. Here’s how the “big three” carriers compare:
- AT&T: 22GB to 50GB included, then slowed to 128 Kbps. Data-only plans for connected devices are also available.
- T-Mobile: 50GB to 100GB included, then unlimited at 3G speeds. Data-only plans for connected devices available from $5/mo. (500MB) to $40/mo. (30GB).
- Verizon: 50GB of 4G/5G speeds, unlimited hotspot data at 3G speeds. You can also add unlimited data on laptops to your existing plan for $20 to $30/mo.
How much data do I need to work remotely?
If your work activity is limited to communication apps like Slack, web browsing and the occasional Zoom meeting, you can probably get by on about 20 to 30GB of mobile hotspot data per month. Video calls are the biggest bandwidth hogs for most people, using about 3GB per hour compared to just 50MB for activities like web browsing and checking email. If you’re worried about going over your data allowance, you can reduce your data usage by lowering video and audio quality, turning off video altogether or downloading an ad blocker for your web browser.Learn more about data caps
Public Wi-Fi is plentiful but usually slow
If you want to rely on publicly available Wi-Fi spots while traveling and working, you’ll likely have to deal with much slower speeds than wireless or satellite. A report from Free Wi-Fi Hot Spots showed download speeds from 2 to 16 Mbps for connections using public Wi-Fi in spots like Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, with an average speed around 4.5 Mbps – by far the slowest of any connection type.
Even though that sounds pretty low, these speeds are still above Zoom’s recommended 2.6 Mbps download speeds for 720p HD video. (Zoom says you’ll need at least 1.8 Mbps upload speeds for the same video quality.) That said, these speed recommendations are often on the low side. Researchers at San Francisco State University say anything below 5 Mbps is inadequate for Zoom, and suggest 20 Mbps for smooth video calls.
The good news is that you shouldn’t need to look too hard to find a decent public Wi-Fi connection. According to research, there were more than 549 million public Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide in 2022.
Learn more about using public Wi-Fi safely
But relying on public internet opens your computer up to risks that other types of connections don’t. You may want to consider taking extra security measures like using a VPN to add protection to your work computer while it’s connected to a public network.
Satellite internet offers decent speeds, but it’s expensive if you’ll be traveling
Satellite internet is a solid option if you want to work from a remote location without broadband access, but it quickly becomes pricey if you want to take your connection on the road. Our data shows the average satellite internet connection gets download speeds of 30 Mbps. It won’t set any speed records, but it should be plenty of bandwidth for most remote work activities.
However, the vast majority of satellite connections are stationary. If you want to set up your RV or van with satellite internet, you’ll probably need to invest a significant amount upfront. Satellite dishes can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands, and that’s before you pay anything for monthly service. DISH and HughesNet both have add-on mobile plans for existing residential customers, and RVDataSat offers complete RV internet systems starting at $6,995.
Another player in the satellite game is Starlink, offering an RV travel plan for $135.00/mo. Starlink says, “Users can expect high speed, low latency internet in areas marked “Available,” and notably slower speeds during hours of peak usage in areas marked as “Waitlist” or during events with many collocated users.” Check out your availability here.Learn more about satellite internet
What internet speed do I need to work remotely?
We recommend around 25 Mbps of download speeds for one person working remotely, but you may be able to get by on even less than that depending on the kind of work you do. Simple tasks like checking email and browsing web pages only require around 1 Mbps of download speeds. Video calls typically require the most bandwidth of any work task, and Zoom only recommends around 2 Mbps of upload and download speed.
Learn more about internet speeds for working remotely
That said, many users have found these estimates to be on the low side, so you may want to shoot for at least 5 Mbps before you start hopping on video calls. If you do experience glitches, most apps allow you to lower the settings on your video quality for a smoother experience.
Tips for working while you travel
Working remotely while you travel can be an incredible experience, but it’s also an adjustment for most people. Without the familiar environment of the (home or work) office, it can be hard to capture your usual level of productivity. Try out some of these tips to help you adjust to working while you travel.
Stick to a schedule
If you’re new to working remotely, it can be jarring to have the structure of a morning commute and dedicated office space suddenly removed. And even if you’ve been working from home for a while, your usual routines will probably need to be tweaked for your new travel setup.
No matter how you’re working on your trip, try to keep your routine as consistent as possible. Your coworkers will surely appreciate knowing when you’ll be available, but the benefits go beyond scheduling.
Our brains thrive on routines, and because you might not have a consistent workspace while you’re travelling, a strong work schedule you can rely on becomes all the more essential. Try to commit to opening and closing your computer, eating lunch and taking breaks at the same time every day.
Be aware of your internet security
Connecting to public Wi-Fi networks while you travel opens your devices up to security threats you wouldn’t have to worry about at home. General internet safety tips become even more crucial if you’re going to connect to public Wi-Fi.
Use strong passwords, enable multi-factor authentication, watch out for phishing emails and consider using a virtual private network (VPN). These services typically cost just a few dollars a month, and they protect your data by masking your IP address.
You should also be more careful about which websites you visit while connected to public Wi-Fi. Look for websites that use Transport layer security, or TLS, encryption. Their URLs begin with “HTTPS,” and you’ll see a padlock icon in the address bar. It’s not a perfect solution — one study found that about 5.5% of these websites were still vulnerable to attack — but it does add an important layer of security.
If you’re still concerned about security issues on public Wi-Fi networks, using your phone’s mobile hotspot is considered a safer option because the data you send is always encrypted.
Factor in time zones
If you’re going to be traveling across time zones, you’ll want to work with your team to identify the times that you’re going to be online. While this might require a major change to your schedule, it could also be an opportunity to free up some uninterrupted work time.
Use the hours when most of your team is offline for focused personal tasks that don’t require communication with your co-workers. That way, when your working hours do overlap, you’ll have more bandwidth for collaboration.
Set aside time for breaks
One of the perks of a physical office is the many spontaneous moments that help break up the day. While these can easily tip over into the “too distracting” category, it’s actually healthy for our brain to hit the pause button periodically throughout the day.
In one often-cited study of violinists, researchers found that most people do their best work in chunks of 60 to 90 minutes, with frequent short breaks spread throughout.
This seems to hold true no matter what type of work you do. The time-tracking app DeskTime used its massive database of 5.5 million logged records per day to find that the top 10% most productive workers worked in cycles of 52 minutes of concentrated work followed by 17-minute breaks.
In a meat-processing plant, the ideal balance was 51 minutes on, nine minutes off; for power tiller operators, it was 75 and 15; and for “highly demanding computer work,” a study of patent examiners concluded that 50 minutes of work followed by seven-minute breaks yielded the best results.
If you’re new to these kinds of scheduled breaks, time management apps are a great way to make sure you’re getting up from your computer occasionally. Most are available for free for both desktop and mobile devices, and range from simple timers to sophisticated habit-building tools.
Stay connected with friends and family
You’re probably going to be away from your friends and family while you travel, which means you’ll have to be more intentional about staying in touch. But the benefits are worth the extra effort. Research shows that maintaining meaningful relationships helps people cope with stress effectively, and even prevent it from occurring in the first place. Consider dedicating some time each week to call your friends and family members while you’re away from home.
Put your phone away
If you have trouble ignoring your phone during work hours, you’re not alone: One survey found that 2 in 3 workers say they use their phone several times a day while working. And even if you’re not actively using your phone, it’s probably still distracting you.
In one experiment, college students did significantly worse on complex tasks when their phones were in view compared to when they were in another room. Remarkably, that negative impact held true even when it was someone else’s phone in view. The mere sight of a phone distracts us.
“With the presence of the phone, you’re wondering what those people are doing,” Bill Thornton, a University of Southern Maine professor and author of the study, told Time.
Even if it’s just mental, your focus is not on the task at hand, whether it be trying to write an article, get this spreadsheet set up, or just socializing; your mind is elsewhere.
In another study of college students, those who left their phones at home scored a full letter-grade higher on a test on the day’s material than those who brought their phones to class.
If the thought of putting your phone away for the entire workday sounds unrealistic, don’t try to get there overnight. Start by putting your phone in another room for 15 minutes at a time and work your way up to longer stretches.
Read more broadband data reports at Allconnect’s Research Hub.
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Written by:Joe Supan
Principal Writer, Broadband Content
Joe Supan is a principal writer for Allconnect and CNET. He has helped build the proprietary metrics used on Allconnect’s review pages, utilizing thousands of data points to help readers navigate these complex… Read more
Edited by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content
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