Want to take the office on the road? Here’s how to get internet while traveling

Joe Supan

Mar 15, 2021 — 5 min read

Satellite, wireless and public Wi-Fi can all connect remote workers to the internet. We crunched the numbers to find out which one is the best.

Family working on computer outside

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  • Wireless is the fastest option for work on-the-go, with average download speeds of 71.9 Mbps
  • Public Wi-Fi is readily available in most places, but speeds are just 3.3 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 ever. As the world returns to a more normal setting in the future, one of the pandemic’s ripple effects is already clear: Remote work isn’t going anywhere. 

According to one survey, two-thirds of American companies expect work-from-home policies to remain in place for the long-term. Unshackled from the office, millions of people 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.

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 October 2020 to January 2021. 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 work on-the-go, you probably don’t need to look any further than the smartphone that’s already in your pocket. Cellphone plans provide around 72 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 access 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: 15GB to 30GB included, then slowed to 128 Kbps. Data-only plans for connected devices are also available: $60/mo. for 15GB and $85/mo. for 35GB.
  • T-Mobile: 5GB to 40GB included, then unlimited at 3G speeds. Data-only plans for connected devices available from $5/mo. (500MB) to $40/mo. (30GB).
  • Verizon: 15GB to 30GB 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. 
Learn more about using a mobile hotspot

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 how much data you need

Public Wi-Fi is plentiful, but usually slow

If you want to rely on publicly available Wi-Fi to work remotely, you’ll likely have to deal with much slower speeds than wireless or satellite. Data from Rotten Wifi showed an average of just 3.3 Mbps download speed and 2.7 upload speed for connections using public Wi-Fi — by far the slowest of any connection type. 

Even though that sounds pretty low, 3.3 Mbps is still above Zoom’s recommended 2.6 Mbps recommended 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 have to look too hard to find a decent public Wi-Fi connection. According to Statista, there were more than 450 million public Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide in 2020, and that number is expected to grow to 540 million by the end of 2021.

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. 

Learn more about using public Wi-Fi safely

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 15.4 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. 

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. 

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.

Learn more about internet speeds for working remotely
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Joe Supan

Written by:

Joe Supan

Senior Writer, Wireless & Streaming Content

Joe oversees all things wireless and streaming for Allconnect. His work has been referenced by McAfee, Fox network and more. He has utilized thousands of data points to build a library of metrics to help users n… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband & Wireless Content

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