What is a good internet speed?
Anything above 25Mbps is enough for 1-3 people to stream HD video on multiple devices, use video chat apps, and connect multiple devices without buffering issues. Connections slower than 15 Mbps will likely start having problems with video buffering.
When choosing an internet provider, deciding which package is best for you often boils down to how much ‘speed’ you want from your service, but what does that actually mean? Companies advertise bigger and bigger numbers every year, but how practical is that in reality, and what do those numbers even tell you about the overall quality of service?
In this guide, I’ll explain how to understand speed options in three parts:
Basic terms used by Internet providers
What speed do you really need?
What type of service is ideal for these speeds
Overview: Learn the basic concepts
When researching service options, you’re likely to come across these common terms used when providers describe the different packages they offer:
Bandwidth in this context simply refers to the amount of data your provider can transfer in a given time period. It is important to note that bandwidth is not a guarantee of speed; it is only a reflection of optimal conditions.
Sometimes referred to as “bottom speed” or simply “down”, it is generally understood as the speed at which your computer can stream and download items from the Internet.
Upload speed, as opposed to download speed, describes how quickly your computer can transfer data to the internet. Although we’ll concentrate on download speed in this article, internet speed is still a crucial factor to consider when uploading photographs and videos, playing particular games, and utilizing VoIP services like Skype and Facetime. It can also rely on whether you’re using P2P file-sharing (“torrenting”) services when you upload files.
Megabits per second. A unit of measurement for data is a megabit.
Because the rates are near 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps), or 1 gigabit, fiber Internet plans are frequently referred to as “gigabit.”
Latency, commonly referred to as “lag”, is the delay between when data is sent to your computer and when it is finally delivered.
The limit is set by the provider, which determines how much data you can use per month. Exceeding this can often result in additional charges and reduced service speed.
How to find out what speed you need
Think about how you will use your new internet connection. It can be useful to think ahead a bit, especially if you are signing a long-term contract. You don’t want to stick with a service that won’t shave six months off your trip, but you also don’t want to pay more than you have to every month. Choose the speed that is appropriate for you with the aid of this advice.
If all you want to do is check your email and social media: 1-5 Mbps
You don’t need anything more than the absolute basics to do this. With Facebook and other news sites increasingly focusing on video, it might make sense to get something with at least 5Mbps to ensure you can watch content without stuttering or saving to buffer.
If you often want to stream Netflix and other services in HD: 7-15+ Mbps
Streaming is a bit of a bandwidth hog, and Netflix recommends a download speed of 5Mbps per device in use. Thus, two simultaneous streamers would require 10 Mbps, three would want 15, and so on.
It’s also important to factor in other devices as they all draw on the same available bandwidth ‘stache’ that you have. This means you’ll have an overview of every smartphone, smart TV, smart toaster, and smart streaming box you own.
Recommended service: Cable or optical connection
If you play a lot of online games: 10-100+ Mbps
Here’s the thing; you don’t really need huge amounts of bandwidth to play most modern games online with others. That being said, certain games need a solid and constant connection, such as many popular MMO titles such as World of Warcraft. As a result, they may require faster uploads and downloads. In addition, it is important to consider how many games you download from the web. As this becomes the primary means of software distribution and games grow in size to 80-100 gigabytes and above, a stronger connection means you get to the action sooner.
Recommended service: Cable or fiber
If you have a house full of heavy users: 200-1000 Mbps (one gigabit)
If you have multiple users in your home who regularly stream, download large files, play and download games, and stream content in ultra HD resolutions like 4k, you’ll need to pull out the big guns to keep everyone happy. To decide exactly how much you need, consider the most common activities performed daily or weekly. If this involved downloading gigabytes worth of files, it might make sense to get as close to a gigabit connection as possible.
Recommended service: fiber (or cable if fiber is not available)
If you need to frequently download large files from the web: 100-1000 Mbps
Again, the exact amount you need will largely depend on how large the files you want to download actually are, as well as your patience. FYI, a 4GB file would probably take about five minutes to download on a 100Mbps connection. Recommended service: fiber (or cable if fiber is not available)
Types of internet services you can choose from
Today, there are several primary connection types used to connect to the Internet. Not all of them are available everywhere, and some of them come with technical limitations worth knowing about, so we’ll take a brief look at each one below.
Satellite Internet is beamed from space directly into your home, making it one of the most universally available options today. That said, due to the huge distances your data has to travel through the air back and forth, this is also generally considered one of the slowest types of connections, as well as being prone to interruptions due to environmental conditions. That said, there have been improvements on these fronts in recent years.
Average speeds: 1-20 Mbps
Digital subscriber line (DSL) Internet relies on the standard copper telephone lines that run across most of the country, and as such is another option that is widely available. However, again compared to the two options below, it has some pretty serious limitations in terms of speed and overall quality of service. If you’re just looking for the bare minimum (a connection to check Facebook and email, more or less), then this might be all you need.
Average speeds: 1-15 Mbps
Cable is the option you may be most familiar with as it is one of the most common internet connections in many areas of the US. Cable providers like AT&T and Charter offer a good balance between speed and price and can provide enough upload and download bandwidth to handle most tasks, including streaming HD content from services like Netflix and Hulu. They often come bundled with bundled options for TV and phone service.
Average speeds: 10-300 Mbps
Fiber optic connections form the backbone of the internet around the world as they provide the fastest possible speeds for transferring data over long distances. If fiber connections are available in your area, you should know that they usually offer more than enough to handle almost anything you can throw at them. However, this comes at a higher cost, so remember that you may not need all that raw power in the first place.
Average speeds: 50-1000 Mbps (1 Gbps)
Remember: raw speeds don’t necessarily make for a great connection
As mentioned earlier, the bandwidth listed is not the same as your actual demonstrable speeds on a given day. All different types of services are prone to their own degree of intermittent problems, especially during peak connectivity times such as early evening. Generally speaking, you can expect the speed to be slightly lower than advertised sporadically, and this is important to consider when determining how much you actually have to pay.
Another factor to consider is wired and wireless connectivity. In general, a hard Ethernet connection (say directly to an Xbox or streaming device) will always provide more consistent and faster speeds than using Wi-Fi. Obstacles such as walls, furniture, and distance from the router can all degrade the wireless signal, so keep this in mind when planning how your connection will be set up in your home.