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How Much Internet Speed Do You Need?

Illustration for article titled How Much Internet Speed Do You Need?em/em

In the beginning, there was dial-up, and it was good. It took a while for the connection to be made, and your telephone line registered a busy signal to anyone trying to call you, but there is was – the worldwide web. You could check out websites, do some research, and email other people who had Internet connections. It was fun to have a world of information and of course you didn’t worry about speed. There was only one speed – sometimes slower, sometimes a bit faster. A household had one PC computer, and family members shared its use – one at a time.


Now, however, conversations are all about bandwidth, speed, DSL, cable, fiber optics, and even new terms like DSL bonding and vectoring. For the lay person who just wants to have fast Internet and navigation, these terms are meaningless. For the serious gamer with a water-cooled CPV unit, the story is very different.

General Variables

While determining how much speed can really be calculated pretty accurately, there are lots of factors to consider first – how many people in the household and what ages, what types of online activities each household member conducts, and how much bandwidth do those activities require, and how many will be online at the same time. A final factor will be to consider how many other devices in the home are connected to the web and how those devices are used – TV, game console, any smart appliances, etc.


Needs and wants obviously vary, and those have to be considered and analyzed before determining how much speed you need.

Starting With the Terminology

If you are a bit “bandwidth challenged,” that is, you don’t really understand the basics, don’t call your provider, asking how much speed you should have or changing your plan to the highest speed possible. You need to know the basic terms and what they mean.

  • ISP is just an acronym for Internet Service Provider
  • Providers measure speed (bandwidth) in megabits per second (Mbps). The difference in the Mbps you have will make a big difference on the overall quality of your connection to the Internet. Providers offer varying speeds.
  • Streaming: This is a download of sorts, but it is in real-time. You are not downloading and saving an entire movie, for example, but, rather watching it as it is playing. You are only using enough bandwidth to watch the movie as it runs, not downloading the entire movie at once.
  • Downloading: This happens when data is actually transferred from somewhere else into your device. You can download a piece of software or a movie or an app. In general, downloads use more bandwidth, but over less time than streaming. The more speed you have, the faster the download will occur.

Examples of Activities and Bandwidth Needs

  1. If you download a 2-hour movie, you will use about 4 Mbps. It might take about 75 minutes to do that. If your Internet speed is 8 Mbps, however, you could download it in half the time. The question you have to ask yourself is how many movies do you download in, say, a week, and how fast do you want to accomplish that each time you do it.
  2. For streaming, you might only need .7 Mbps, but if you want top quality audio and video, you’ll need more speed. HD video, according to Netflix, will require more than 4 Mbps.
  3. Streaming music requires far less bandwidth, maybe 2 Mbps
  4. Email will require about .075 Mbps without attachments, and more with an attached file.
  5. Online gaming needs will depend on not just the games themselves but all of the updates and the audio platforms that allow gamers to talk to each other. Now, you’re talking a lot of bandwidth – 40+ Mbps
  6. Facebook use needs on average about .03 Mbps for browsing but lots more if a user is streaming videos from that site.

Now, you also have to multiply this out based upon the number of devices that are in use at the same time. If several family members are checking email, opening attachments or are on Facebook, then you might need perhaps 5 Mbps. If you have a serious gamer in the household, however, you have a different situation.

And if satellite or cable TV is in use at the same time, the demand will be greater still. However, if that is used in place of livestreaming on another device, then you’ll need less bandwidth.


Still other variables include such things as Wi-Fi strength, the time of day, and how many people within a locale are on, what they are doing, and how many devices are in use total. During times of high congestion, reputable providers, such as AT&T, will disperse all of the traffic out to several different servers, so as not to impact speed.

Calculating Your Need for Speed

It’s obvious that manually calculating the speed you need can be a complex task, because there are so many factors at play. Once you have an idea of how many devices are in use simultaneously and what each of those devices are doing, you have a couple of options:

  • You can contact your ISP, provide an explanation and ask for a recommendation. Unfortunately, customer service reps are trained to always go for the “upsell,” so you will probably end up with more speed than you really need.
  • You can check with friends who have similar households and gauge yours accordingly. This may be reasonably successful.
  • You can use an Internet speed calculator available online, answer the questions about devices and activities, and you will have a pretty good recommendation provided by those who know far more than you. Then when you contact that ISP, you will be ready with the right information so you don’t succumb to the upsell.

Bandwidth Decisions for Businesses

Most businesses fall into two categories. They are either paying for a lot of bandwidth they don’t really need or staff is complaining that the Internet is too slow. With a little detective work, a business owner can figure this out.


Check the Bill

The Internet services bill will provide a detailed report of exactly how much Mbps you are paying for.


You should then run a speed test by using any of several utilities available online. This will tell you how your Internet is actually performing. If it’s “off,” begin a systematic study of Internet use in your office/building.

Find Out Who is Using the Internet and Why

Youi may discover that some staff members are playing online games during the lunch breaks. From a productivity standpoint, this should not be of concern; however, if that gaming is slowing down your business Internet use, then you do have a problem.


A business owner can use an assessment tool to check the speed when everyone is online with their business or free-time use. If everyone is pretty content, and you are using far less bandwidth than you are paying for, it will be a time to speak with your provider about getting costs down.

Needs Will Vary Based upon Business Size and Uses

If your business is relatively small, it is easy to determine amounts of bandwidth required. You have much better control of all of the devices in use and the activities of your team. You do not exist to make gaming over lunch easier, although for purposes of morale, you may want to continue to carry enough bandwidth so that can happen.


Just remember these few things as you make your determination:

  • If you and your team watch videos, but do not need HD, then you don’t need the fastest connection. Shorter, non-HD videos will load pretty easily, unless there are multiple people using multiple devices. Then it could slow down considerably, frustrating everyone.
  • Standard downloads of videos, file downloads, etc. won’t require much more than 3 Mbps for a small office, but more, of course, with a larger organization if only because of the numbers of devices in use at a single time.
  • If HD video is being downloaded, then a business my need up to 10 Mbps

Video Editing

This activity will take a lot of bandwidth. If you have team members who must do this as a part of their task responsibilities, then you will probably want to go with a higher speed, in order to accommodate everyone.


In general, for most businesses (small to medium), 10-12 Mbps will probably be sufficient. And once you have performed your “detective” work, you can contact your provider and change your bandwidth accordingly. But don’t forget to speed test once you have made any changes. You don’t want to pay for more than you need, but you also need to accommodate the relationship you want with your staff.

Determining the correct Internet speed will save time and frustration, whether you are make that decision for home or office.

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