When streaming is one of your biggest internet activities, it’s easy to believe that you need the highest speeds your internet service provider has to offer. But before you spring for the most expensive plan you can get, think about the online activities you enjoy and the number of users and devices in your home to see which internet speeds you really need.
What is bandwidth and how much do I need?
When talking about internet speeds, you’ll often hear the words “bandwidth” and “Mbps” thrown around. In laymen’s terms, bandwidth refers to how quickly you can download and upload data from the internet to your computer. Bandwidth is measured in megabits per second, or Mbps, and the more bandwidth you have, the faster your internet speeds.
The amount of bandwidth you get with your high-speed internet plan is divided amongst all the users and devices in your household, so you’ll need to consider your typical internet activities to know how much bandwidth you need. Keep in mind that activities like streaming and gaming tend to take up more bandwidth than casual web browsing.
Take our quiz to find out how much bandwidth you’ll need to support your online activities.
Speed recommendations for common streaming activities
|Streaming activity||Minimum recommended speed
|Spotify high-quality music streaming||320 Kbps
|Netflix standard-definition video streaming||3 - 4 Mbps
|Twitch streaming with 1080p and 60 fps ||4 - 6 Mbps
|Hulu high-definition video streaming||5 - 8 Mbps
|Amazon 4K ultra high-definition video streaming||25 Mbps
No matter what streaming service you have, you’ll need about 3 Mbps for SD, up to 8 Mbps for HD and around 25 Mbps for 4K UHD streaming. Also, keep in mind that these recommendations are based on a household that’s only running one online activity at a time. The average American household is running six internet-connected devices at once, so it’s wise to spring for more speed just in case.
Factors that affect internet speed
The speeds you’re receiving and the internet speed you initially paid for won’t always be the same. A number of things can affect your internet speeds at any given time, including who’s using your connection and what they’re using it for.
Internet connection type
The types of internet connections that are available in your area will also have a big impact on what speeds are available to your household. Satellite and DSL connections often offer speeds on the lower end of the spectrum while cable or fiber-optic providers offer the fastest.
According to the FCC, satellite connections deliver speeds ranging from 500 Kbps to up to 25 Mbps, while DSL internet connections range from hundreds of Kbps to millions of Mbps. Typical cable internet connections provide speeds ranging from 1.5 Mbps to 2,000 Mbps and fiber-optic internet can exceed cable speeds by tens or hundreds of Mbps.
Amount of users
There’s a big difference between one person watching Netflix on a 100 Mbps cable plan and five people watching Netflix on that same plan. Your high-speed internet connection only has so much bandwidth to share, and the more people use it, the more susceptible it is to lag.
Not all streaming activities were created equal. Certain activities require more bandwidth and a tell-tale trait of these activities are the speeds they require. Typically, activities with higher recommended internet speeds, like streaming on Twitch, will occupy more bandwidth than an activity like streaming music on Spotify.
“Connection traffic” refers to the competition between devices for bandwidth on your connection. Cable internet subscribers may even be sharing bandwidth with other users in their area. The use of high bandwidth devices like gaming consoles during an inopportune time such as “internet rush hour” can lead to slow speeds for even the smallest households.
In some cases, it’s possible that your internet service provider is limiting your bandwidth or slowing your connection during streaming, gaming and large file downloads. This industry practice, commonly called “throttling,” can also go into effect when a consumer surpasses their monthly data limit.
Test your speed
Try our speed test today to see how your high-speed internet provider’s advertised speeds compare to the speeds you receive. Remember to pause any outstanding internet activity that could skew your results during the test.
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