Next to price, internet speed is one of the main decision drivers when shopping for internet or evaluating your current internet service. But, unlike price – where you can easily look at the monthly cost and say “that fits my budget” or “that’s a new car payment” – internet speeds can be a bit more tricky to gauge.
Is 100 Mbps “fast” internet? Is 10 Mbps “slow”? What internet speeds do I get? These are all questions many of us have regarding internet speed comparison, so we’ve created this simple guide to explain them.
We take a look at how internet speed is measured, what is considered fast internet, what may be slow internet and more to help you answer the real question at hand: What is a good internet speed?
How is internet speed measured?
Internet speed is measured by how much data the connection can download (download speeds) or upload (upload speeds) per second.
For most households, having fast download speeds are what’s important. That’s what we use for common activities such as streaming TV, downloading music and browsing social media.
Upload speeds come into play with things like video conferencing and uploading large files to a server or cloud. Check out this blog for more information about download vs. upload internet speeds.
In both speed types, the speed is shown as bits per second (bps). Since an internet connection transfers thousands of bits per second, we use the prefixes k, M and G to show how many thousands of bits we’re talking about. If you’re familiar with the metric system, you know “k” = 1,000, “M” = 1,000k (1,000,000), and “G” = 1,000M (1,000,000,000).
When coming across internet speeds, you’ll likely see Mbps more than kbps or Gbps. That’s because Mbps speeds are more suited to what we use the internet for.
Speeds that fall into the kbps range are generally what we’d call “slow” internet, and Gbps speeds, which are rare but becoming more common, are in the ultra-fast range.
Think of “broadband” as the national internet speed limit
Per the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a broadband internet connection has a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps and a minimum upload speed of 3 Mbps. This gives us a baseline for determining fast and slow internet speeds.
Speeds much faster than a standard broadband connection are generally considered “fast” internet. While all speeds below that threshold aren’t always necessarily slow, they are too slow to be considered broadband internet.
Keep in mind there are many things that can affect actual internet speeds and performance. Adding connected devices and using the internet for demanding tasks such as streaming in 4K or downloading an HD movie can hinder performance and make even “fast” speeds seem slow.
What is a good internet speed?
A good internet speed is at or above 25 Mbps. These speeds will support most online activity, such as HD streaming, online gaming, web browsing and downloading music.
Fast internet speeds, those in the 100+ Mbps range, are often better, especially if you want your internet connection to support multiple devices and users at once.
What is considered fast internet?
Internet download speeds of 100 Mbps or higher are often considered fast internet because they can handle multiple online activities for multiple users at once without major interruptions in service. If you need a little help determining what speeds you need for your intended internet use, we’ve got you covered.
Common fast internet speed tiers include:
- 100 Mbps
- 200 Mbps
- 250 Mbps
- 300 Mbps
- 400 Mbps
- 500 Mbps
- 1,000 Mbps
- 2,000 Mbps
Cable and fiber-optic internet services are your best bet for fast internet speeds. Fiber-optic internet is also a great choice for speed consistency, as it is less vulnerable than cable to slower speeds during peak usage times.
Popular cable or fiber-optic internet providers include AT&T, CenturyLink, Cox, Frontier FiOS, Optimum, Spectrum, Suddenlink, Verizon Fios, Xfinity and Windstream. Many of these providers offer speeds up to 940-1,000 Mbps in select areas, but Xfinity is currently the only provider with speeds up to 2,000 Mbps.
What are fast internet upload speeds?
Upload speeds of 10 Mbps or higher are generally considered fast internet speeds for upload because they can easily handle the common upload activities of the average user. For example, Skype recommends upload speeds of 1.2 Mbps or higher for HD video calling. Uploading a large file, like 700 MB file (about the size of a CD-ROM) should take less than 10 minutes with a 10 Mbps upload connection.
What is considered slow internet?
Download speeds less than 25 Mbps are too slow to be considered broadband. With these speeds, users may experience buffering when streaming video, difficulty connecting multiple devices and other internet connectivity issues.
When connecting multiple devices, streaming in HD or using a Wi-Fi connection, speed tiers that could be considered slow include:
- Anything less than 1 Mbps
- 3 Mbps
- 5 Mbps
- 10 Mbps
- 15 Mbps
- 18 Mbps
The FCC does recommend speeds less than 25 Mbps for many online activities, including streaming SD and HD video, gaming online and downloading music. However, these are minimum speed recommendations and do not account for connecting multiple devices or other factors that may slow your internet speeds.
DSL is the most common internet service type with speeds lower than 25 Mbps. Some cable internet services offer slow speeds as low-cost internet options but are often capable of offering customers much higher speeds for a higher monthly cost.
Regardless of the internet activity, dial-up is considered slow internet because it can only offer speeds up to 56 kbps. These speeds aren’t capable of much more than checking email and will not support streaming, online gaming, Wi-Fi or even uploading a single webpage in a reasonable amount of time.
Think your internet is slow? Take a speed test
An internet speed test will give you a good idea of whether or not you have good internet speeds for your household. For best results, take the speed test with a wired connection. If you get speeds below 25 Mbps, you may have a slow internet connection that can’t keep up with all your online activity.
If you have slow internet, there may be other internet providers in your area that offer faster speeds. Or, your current internet provider may offer plans with higher speeds. Shop around to find a faster internet speed if your current provider and plan doesn’t offer the speeds you need.
How much of a difference does a good internet speed make?
Small speed increments, such as 15 to 25 Mbps, likely won’t result in a noticeable difference in performance, but larger jumps, say 10 to 100 Mbps, can give you a totally different experience.
To give you an idea of how much speed can play a role in downloading and uploading, we’ve listed the estimated time it would take to download a two hour HD movie and upload a 10-minute video with various speeds below.
How long does it take to download a movie?
File sizes for things like music, movies and pictures vary, but a movie can range from 1 to 7 GBs depending on the length and picture quality. Here’s how long it would take in hours:minutes:seconds to download a 4 GB file with various speeds.
|1 Mbps||10 Mbps||25 Mbps||50 Mbps||100 Mbps||200 Mbps||400 Mbps||1,000 Mbps|
How long does it take to upload a short video?
Video files vary in size, but let’s say you have a 500 MB clip, which could amount to 10 minutes or more in standard definition. Here’s an estimate of how long it would take to upload it with various upload speeds.
Keep in mind, upload speeds from internet providers are often significantly lower than download speeds. Some fiber-optic providers, however, do offer upload speeds comparable to their advertised download speeds.
|1 Mbps||3 Mbps||5 Mbps||10 Mbps||30 Mbps||50 Mbps||100 Mbps||500 Mbps|
These download and upload times are estimates and based on a constant speed. As mentioned above, there are many factors, such as the number of connected devices and types of internet activities performed, that can affect internet speeds and the time it takes to perform a given task.
Shop internet providers, plans and speeds in your area with our internet experts. We’ll help you find and compare plans with good internet speeds for your home.
Originally published 02/19/19. Last updated 07/16/19.