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Frequently asked questions on internet speeds: What are Mbps and how many do I need?

Joe Supan

May 20, 2022 — 10 min read

Whether you're gaming, streaming, schooling or working from home, learn all you need to know to make sure you have an effective internet plan.

If you’re shopping for a new internet service provider, you may find yourself asking what internet speed do I need or how many megabits per second (Mbps) do I need? Choosing the right Mbps for your internet speed needs is a big deal. The wrong choice can leave you stuck when you don’t have enough speed and the spinning “loading” wheel becomes a norm, or when you’ve got too much speed and you’re paying for much more than you need. 

The Federal Communications Commission1 (FCC) recommends at least 25 Mbps of download speed, which will allow you to check your email, browse the internet and watch a video, but on one device at a time. 

Most of us have internet needs that go a bit beyond the basic, like joining in video conferences, working and learning from home and online gaming, with multiple users in our household trying to access all of that at once on many devices.

In fact, the desire for faster speeds in the form of a fiber connection is becoming more prevalent in American homes, as reported by the FCC, “In 2019 alone, fiber broadband networks became available to roughly 6.5 million additional homes, the largest one-year increase ever, with smaller providers accounting for 25% of these new fiber connections.”2

What’s found on this page: 

General home internet speed recommendations

What internet speed do I need?

So what speed is right for you? The best download and upload speeds for you depend on how you use the internet at home. More than 90% of Allconnect readers who took our internet speed quiz stream TV daily, and more than 25% stream Ultra HD daily, which means fast internet speeds to them are closer to 100 Mbps.

If you have a household of four people, you can most likely make do with a 100 Mbps plan. However, keep in mind that depending on what the four of you are simultaneously accessing online may lead to some lag in your video meeting or your child’s online game. 

200 to 400 Mbps plans may be worth the extra money monthly for some families simply for peace of mind that you aren’t going to freeze in the middle of that important meeting with your boss or lose all of your progress in the latest game.

Keep in mind, too, that having a mid-sized household on a 100 Mbps plan, while doable, may cause some issues during peak usage time for your provider. There isn’t much left to pull from when your neighbors are all online, your kids and your partner are streaming and gaming and you are trying to hold a video meeting.

How can I determine my current internet speed?

You can measure your current internet speed by taking an internet speed test on a computer that’s connected to your home network. Many internet speed tests also tell you your ping time and differentiate your connection’s upload and download speeds.

Your speed test results:

Download Speeds

888 Mbps

Upload Speeds

88 Mbps

Need more for the price?

Try these helpful hacks to improve your internet speed. Or if you just want more bang for your buck, check out providers near you with more speed for the price. Either way, we’ll help you find what you need.

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Pro Tip: For best results, use an Ethernet cord to connect your router or modem directly to your device before you run the test.

Recommended internet speeds for streaming

How much internet speed do I need for streaming?

Depending on what kind of streaming you’ll be doing, the internet speed needed might change. For example, streaming Spotify music will require less speed than streaming videos or shows. In general, to stream most videos in standard definition, you’ll need download speeds of at least 3 Mbps. You need at least 25 Mbps for 4K streaming video on your computer or Ultra HD-enabled devices.

For Netflix, the minimum internet speed recommended for streaming is 3 Mbps, but recommended speeds vary by the quality you want to view3.

  • To stream videos in standard definition, at least 1 Mbps is recommended.
  • To stream videos in HD, at least 3 Mbps is recommended.
  • To stream videos in HDR or 4K, at least 15 Mbps is recommended.

In contrast, for the best video quality, Hulu recommends 3 Mbps for on-demand viewing and 8 Mbps for Live TV viewing4.

For streaming live TV with DIRECTV Stream, you’ll want a minimum internet speed of 2.5 Mbps, however, you may want to consider higher speeds based on your device5. According to DIRECTV:

  • To stream videos at home in HD, 8.0 Mbps is recommended per device
  • To stream on a mobile device using data, 150 Kbps to 2.5 Mbps are recommended for standard-definition streaming, and 2.5 to 7.5 Mbps are best for high-definition

YouTube TV recommends a minimum internet speed of 3 Mbps, but advises that how much speed you need may vary by video quality6.

  • To stream videos in standard definition, at least 3 Mbps is recommended.
  • To stream video on one device in HD, at least 7 Mbps is recommended.
  • To stream 4K content, at least 25 Mbps is recommended.

Recommended internet speeds for gaming

You need minimum speeds of 4-8 Mbps to game online, but for a consistently good gaming experience, 10-25 Mbps tend to be best. As you search for the best internet for gaming, keep in mind that download speed isn’t the only factor in a good gaming experience.

Speed is important because it’s how quickly your device transfers information from the gaming server. However, ping time and latency also matter.

  • Nintendo Switch requires a minimum download speed of 3 Mbps and a minimum upload speed of 1 Mbps. 
  • PlayStation 4 requires 2 Mbps download and upload speeds.
  • Xbox One requires 3 Mbps of download speed and a minimum of 0.5 Mbps upload speed. 

Check your latency

Ping time, or latency, is more important for gaming than internet download speeds. A ping time of 20 milliseconds or less is great while 20-100 milliseconds will give you a good gaming experience.

Generally, higher speed plans will have lower latency, as it takes the data less time to travel. The FCC reported in the latest fixed broadband report that the average “measured median latencies ranged from 8 milliseconds to 28 milliseconds” in the ISPs they studied. Those included Frontier, Windstream, Optimum, Comcast, Cox and others. 

Ping time can improve based on your download and upload speeds. However, factors such as your local area connection and internet latency affect your ping time more than internet speeds.

But, how does one go about finding out their ping time and are there ways to improve it that are in your control? To determine your ping time, run a simple internet speed test like the one above. In the results, you’ll find download and upload speeds, ping, jitter and loss. If your ping is higher than optimal, here are some things to do to help lower it:

  • Make sure your router firmware is up-to-date.
  • Reduce the number of devices on the network. 
  • Make sure there are no auto-updates scheduled during your gaming time. 
  • Close all background applications and programs. 
  • Clear router and modem caches.

Best internet technologies for online gaming

The best internet for gaming is usually cable internet or fiber optic internet since they both provide low-latency internet connections, which means lower ping time.

Satellite internet tends to have high latency, even with fast download speeds, because the internet signal must travel so far between its source (a satellite) and its end destination (your device).

Best internet for gaming in rural areas

When available, fixed wireless internet is a better option for gaming than satellite in rural areas.

Fixed wireless internet has lower latency than satellite because fixed wireless internet signals don’t travel through the atmosphere. Instead, they travel from a local tower directly to your home antenna. Fixed wireless internet also offers speeds comparable to cable and DSL internet. AT&T is a popular fixed wireless internet service provider in rural areas offering speeds ranging from 10 to 25 Mbps. 

Avoid satellite internet for real-time gaming

Satellite internet does not work well with sports games or shooter games because they require rapid data response times. Other online games such as online card games, role-playing games, strategy games or puzzle games tend to work fine with satellite internet.

Do online games block satellite internet users?

Since many people around the world play sports and first-person shooter games simultaneously, these types of games may block satellite internet users from playing. They block satellite users to prevent people from using lag to their advantage and compromising the gaming experience for other players7.

How to improve your internet speeds for online gaming

To make your internet faster at home, you could boost your Wi-Fi signal to lower your latency. Resetting or moving your router can boost and stabilize your signal. You could also add a Wi-Fi repeater or extender to improve internet signals for gaming devices further away from your router.

You can also shop for a different high-speed internet service with faster speeds and a potentially more reliable connection.

Recommended internet speeds for working from home

The COVID-19 pandemic enabled many of us to work from home and that saw us relying on our internet connections much more heavily to accommodate that new lifestyle. 

At the two-year mark of the pandemic, some workers are back at the office, or at least in hybrid roles, but not all of us. In fact, 6-in-10 of U.S. workers “who say their jobs can mainly be done from home (59%) are working from home all or most of the time,” according to a February 2022 Pew Research article.

The good news is that you probably don’t need to upgrade your internet connection to start working from home. Most work activities have relatively low bandwidth requirements.

If you can stream Netflix, you can use Zoom successfully.

Recommended internet speeds for WFH

The best internet speed for working from home depends on what kind of work you do. If you frequently download and upload large files and participate in video meetings, we recommend at least 25 Mbps of download speeds for households with only one person working from home at a time. Here’s how much internet speed some of the most common work apps require: 

A word of caution: These numbers look incredibly low compared to the 25 Mbps we recommend for working from home, but apps generally underestimate how much speed you’ll need to use their products smoothly. 

As researchers at San Francisco State University found, “speeds below 5 Mbps are not adequate for two-way interaction” on Zoom7. For glitch-free video meetings, they recommend at least 20 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. And if there are other devices connected to your Wi-Fi while you’re on a Zoom meeting, you’ll need even more.

If you’re not sure how much speed you need — or even how much you’re currently getting — you can use our speed test and quiz above to gauge your situation.

How can I boost my internet speed to work from home?

There are a number of steps you can take to help get your internet speed up to a comfortable level for working from home. Here’s how to get the most out of your connection: 

  1. Update your router’s security settings: Wi-Fi leeches are unfortunately a common issue slowing down home internet speeds, especially if you live in close proximity to your neighbors. We recommend upping your network security by protecting access to your router with a complex password and WPA2 security.
  2. Optimize your router: You can try things like turning off your router’s entertainment settings, resetting the Request to Send (RTS) thresholds and changing the router’s fragmentation and RTS threshold settings. 
  3. Use a new Wi-Fi channel: Switching your router from a standard 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi channel to a 5 GHz channel can help reduce interference and provide a boost to your internet speeds. 
  4. Move your router: One of the least technical but most effective troubleshooting steps you’ll find, simply moving your router to a more elevated, clearer spot can have a dramatic impact on speed.
  5. Use a wired connection: If you can set up your home office next to your modem, running an Ethernet cable straight to your computer can greatly improve your connection speed and stability. 
  6. Reset your router: When in doubt, simply unplug your router and plug it back in. Believe it or not, a hard reset can sometimes fix issues that have been slowing down your connection.

If none of these steps increase your speeds enough, you might have to start spending money to see improved results. Mesh networks use several small routers to spread your Wi-Fi connection throughout the home and are particularly useful in bigger houses. Similarly, Wi-Fi extenders cost anywhere from $20 to $200, and extend your internet to rooms that are blocked due to walls, furniture or spacing issues. Finally, if you’ve had the same Wi-Fi router for a while, we recommend replacing it every four years to make sure you’re getting the most out of your internet connection. 

Learn more about boosting your Wi-Fi signal

Prioritize your work connection

If there are other people in the house using the internet during work hours, it can be helpful to keep that traffic separate. As we mentioned above, most routers come with both the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, which can be split into two different networks. In general, the 5 GHz band provides faster speeds, while the 2.4 GHz band has better range. Dedicating one of those bands to work activities and one to everything else can help send your bandwidth where it’s needed the most.

Most routers also have the ability to create a guest network, often with max speed settings that can make sure your bandwidth isn’t being capped out while you’re working. Some routers even have Quality of Service settings, which let you prioritize traffic to specific devices. If working from home looks like it will be a permanent part of your future, it might be worth investing in a new router with these features. 

Don’t forget to secure your home network

It’s one thing for your personal Instagram account to be hacked. But leaking your employer’s sensitive data due to an unsecured network? That’s a much more serious problem for you and your company. Taking steps like encrypting your Wi-Fi signal, updating your router’s firmware, and using a VPN (virtual private network) like ExpressVPN is essential to keeping your work life secure.

Learn more about securing your internet connection

Internet speed FAQs

What is the fastest home internet speed?

The current fastest widely available home internet speed is 5,000 Mbps, or 5 Gbps, and is offered by AT&T in select areas.

Ping time is the responsiveness of your connection, or how fast that data packet travels to the server and back. Ping time is measured in milliseconds. If your connection doesn’t register the data request for a couple of seconds, you may still see a lag in your game, file upload, online submission or other activity.

Latency is how fast data transfers between a source and its destination — basically a delay of information communication. For instance, if you’re in the U.S. playing a game with a server in China, you will have a higher latency than someone playing the same game in China.

Mbps is how internet speeds are gauged and it means “megabits per second.” It measures the bandwidth of an internet connection — how much data can be transferred each second.

Download speed is how fast your internet connection can transfer data from a server to you. Download speeds are important for downloading files, loading a website, streaming a video or streaming music. Upload speed is how fast your internet connection can transfer your data to a server. Upload speeds are important for sending emails, sending files to other people, live video chats and gaming.

No matter what you use the internet for at home, we recommend getting slightly faster speeds than Netflix, Skype, online shopping or any other activity requires. Internet speeds often perform slower at home than advertised. Having multiple devices at home will eat up bandwidth, and a variety of technical factors can also slow down your connection.

Sources referenced

  1. Federal Communications Commission. “Broadband Speed Guide.” fcc.gov. Accessed May 17, 2022.
  2. Federal Communications Commission. “2020 Broadband Deployment Report.” fcc.gov. Accessed May 17, 2022.
  3. Netflix. “Internet connection speed recommendations.” Netflix Help Center. Accessed May 17, 2022.
  4. Hulu. “Internet speed recommendations.” Hulu Help Center. Accessed May 17, 2022.
  5. DIRECTV. “Get internet speed suggestions for DIRECTV STREAM.” directv.com. Accessed May 17, 2022.
  6. Google. “Troubleshoot video streaming issues.” YouTube TV Help. Accessed May 17, 2022.
  7. San Francisco State University. “Internet speed and bandwidth.” Academic Technology Help Center. Accessed May 17, 2022.

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Joe Supan

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

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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