How Much Internet Speed Do I Need?

The bottom line: most households need Internet speeds of at least 25 Mbps download to enjoy activities like streaming video on multiple devices.

How much Internet speed you need depends on a variety of factors, from how many people are sharing the WiFi to how much Netflix you watch.

To get a quick recommendation based on the number of users and devices in your home, take a look at our bandwidth calculation tool. If you already have WiFi, consider learning how to extend your WiFi network.

In this article, we’ll walk through how Internet speed is measured, and what approximate range different types of customers should consider.

How Much Speed Do I Really Need?

Here are some general download speed requirements based on everyday online activities:

  • Check email and browse the web: 1-5 Mbps minimum
  • Stream HD content: 15-25 Mbps minimum
  • Stream 4K content and play competitive online games: 40-100 Mbps minimum
  • Stream 4K content, play online games, and download very large files: 200+ Mbps minimum

What Is the Difference Between Upload and Download Speed?

To put it simply:

  • Download speed: how quickly your Internet connection can retrieve data from the Internet (web pages, video, cat photos, etc.)
  • Upload speed: how quickly your Internet connection can send data from your devices up to the Internet (uploading video to YouTube, sending documents via email, etc.)

You may notice that many companies only advertise the download speed of their plans. This is because upload speeds tend to be slower on residential Internet plans, and marketing people don’t want to put smaller numbers on an advertisement.

Download speed is much more important for the average user, since you only notice upload speed when trying to share large files. It is normal for your upload speed to be around one tenth your download speed.

How Many Mbps Do I Need for Streaming?

Screenshot of Netflix homepage
5 Mbps is the minimum download speed for watching HD Netflix on your laptop.

Netflix recommends at least a 5 Mbps download speed for standard HD video, and a 25 Mbps download speed for 4K content. [1]

However, it’s important to keep in mind that these numbers refer to what the service on its own needs — not the total speed of your Internet plan.

For instance, say you have a 25 Mbps down connection speed. If the total capacity of your Internet connection is a pie, you can imagine that every user on the network (and all of their various devices) each get a “slice” of that pie. Essentially, your total potential speed is split across all of the devices connected to the network, so that 25 Mbps may only be providing 10-15 Mbps to Netflix itself, preventing you from streaming 4K content smoothly.

Also, using WiFi will always be slower than a hardwired connection. Trying to stream over WiFi can produce less-than-stellar results.

Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you’re maximizing your chances of a trouble-free streaming experience:

  1. Connect your streaming devices to the router with an ethernet cable whenever possible.
  2. When streaming over WiFi, position the streaming device as close to the router as possible, with no physical barriers like walls or furniture between them. This will help you achieve a more stable connection.

Use our bandwidth calculator to get an estimate of the speed you actually need to stream on multiple devices at home.

Mbps vs Gbps: What’s the Difference?

Internet speeds are measured in “Megabits per second,” often abbreviated as “Mbps.” These commonly range anywhere from 1 Mbps up to 1000+ Mbps.

  • One Mbps: one Megabit per second
  • One Gbps: one Gigabit per second, or one thousand Megabits. (1 Gbps is the maximum for most home Internet plans, so you will often see fiber providers advertise “gigabit service” or “gig speed.”)

An average mp3 song in your iTunes ranges from 3 to 5 megabytes, whereas a 4K movie or tv show can be several gigabytes, so it’s important to gauge the types of speeds you’ll need accordingly.

Bits vs Bytes

The amount of data you use is measured in “bytes,” while the speed you can move data is measured in “bits.” For example:

“The average cable Internet plan has a download speed of 150 Megabits per second (Mbps), and a data cap of 1024 GigaBytes (GB).”

MB vs GB: What’s the Difference?

This is confusing for non-techies, but to put it simply:

  • MB: MegaByte (a million bytes of data)
  • GB: = GigaByte (a billion bytes of data)

You will likely see the term GB used in conjunction with data caps, which some providers use to limit the amount of data you can consume. These can either be hard capped (service is not available after exceeding the stated amount) or soft-capped, meaning you will simply experience slower speeds — and potentially, additional charges.

Ping and Latency: Does It Matter?

Latency is a measurement of the amount of time it takes for data to be transmitted from one point to another. Ping is often used interchangeably to describe this, but in fact, a “ping” is simply the act of hailing a certain receiver. Under this definition, latency is a measurement of how quickly you can “ping” the server you are trying to reach.

So, is latency a real concern when deciding which service provider to choose from?

Honestly, the majority of users will likely not be impacted by latency. Competitive gamers serious about getting the best connection will definitely want to look into minimizing this number. For everyone else, it’s not worth worrying about as almost all wired Internet connections these days don’t have latency issues.

What Is a “Good” Internet Speed?

While most users are content with 25 Mbps download, power users and streamers should consider much higher speeds.

It depends — how many devices and family members will be using the connection at any given time? What do they use the internet for on a regular basis? Is your main activity 4K Netflix streaming, or just simple email tasks?

The FCC currently defines a “broadband” internet connection as one that provides at least 25 Mbps for download speed and 3 Mbps for upload. [2] This is a decent benchmark for the average family of three. Again, depending heavily on your usage habits, this may not be enough.

What Is a “Fast” Internet Speed?

By most definitions, anything above 200 Mbps is considered “fast.” Once you get above 750 Mbps, these are often referred to as “gigabit” services.

If you’re wondering why anyone would ever need a 1000 Mbps + download or upload speed, the answer is pretty simple: most of us don’t. That said, these sorts of speeds are worth getting for techies, streamers, and large households.

For instance, say you are someone who enjoys streaming 4K movies regularly, or playing intensive 3D games in 4K on your PC. All of these actions require tremendous bandwidth, as ultra-res media can be dozens-to-hundreds of gigabytes in size.

What would take you hours to download on a lesser connection can be achieved in a matter of seconds over gigabit Internet connections, provided you’re willing to pay the higher premiums associated with these speeds (and provided they are even available in your area.)

Why Does Internet Speed Vary Per Location?

You may notice a certain company offering fast speeds in the subdivision adjacent yours…

…only to search your Internet options and find they can’t provide the same speed for your street.

This can be frustrating.

Regardless of which type of service you are interested in, your physical connection has to go somewhere central before it can move on to the wider network that forms the backbone of the internet. For DSL and cable, this central location is the provider’s office or joining node, and for fiber, a central switch.

No matter the specifics, the physical distance between your home and these meeting points can have an impact on the speed of service a particular company is able to offer. Remember, though — just because one provider can only offer a certain speed, that doesn’t necessarily mean all of them are limited in the same way.

If you live in an area where there are several services to choose from, check the speeds offered by other ISPs in your area before setting an install date.

How Can I Calculate My Upload and Download Speed?

speed test tool
Use our speed test tool to check your upload, download, and other key Internet performance metrics.

If you already have existing service but aren’t sure how fast it actually is, you can find out using our speed test tool.

Essentially, this service works by sending test samples of data to various remote servers, the same way you would when browsing the web.

We then display the average upload and download speeds of those individual pieces of data, allowing you to get a good idea of what you’re working with.

The Bottom Line: 25 Mbps Is the Minimum Speed for Modern Households

So how much speed do you need? If you don’t have time to dig into the details, just make sure you get a plan with at least 25 Mbps download speed. For most people, this is “good enough.”

If you’re the type of person that always likes to have the best, just get the fastest plan under $100/month. Especially if you stream TV a lot, you can be sure you won’t run into endless buffering.

For more detailed recommendations based on your specific household size and number of devices, visit our Internet speed calculator.

  • Author: BroadbandNow Team
  • Last updated: 11/11/2019