With streaming services on the rise, more and more consumers are cutting the cord and choosing streaming as their preferred mode of entertainment. In fact, consumption of streaming services jumped 36% in the weeks following the COVID-19 outbreak.1 Netflix, Disney+ and other services will stream video on a single device at slower speeds, but if you want a high-quality streaming experience (especially if you are watching something different than your housemate), faster internet speeds can make that happen.
Finding an internet service provider, or ISP, is no small feat — that’s where we come in. In this post below, we go over the basics of streaming, common streaming activities, ISP comparisons, and every detail in between to help you find the best internet for streaming.
Best Internet Speeds for Streaming
As you’re watching Hamilton on Disney+, you might encounter something unpleasant: buffering. Streaming usually loads video and audio content beforehand so buffering doesn’t happen, but slow internet speeds will ensure that it does.
For an idea of how much internet speed you need, here are the sweet spots:
- SD TV stream on one device: 5 Mbps
- Single HD TV stream on 1-2 devices: 25 Mbps
- Multiple HD TV streams + gaming on 1-4 devices: 100 Mbps
- Multiple HD/4K TV streams on multiple devices: 300-500 Mbps
- Multiple HD/4K TV streams + file uploading on multiple devices: 1,000 Mbps
Internet Speed Requirements for Various Streaming Platforms
Fortunately, most streaming platforms don’t require speeds any higher than 25 Mbps for HD video quality. Audio quality requires even less, as you can see from Spotify’s speed requirements below.
- Netflix: 3-25 Mbps
- Disney+: 5-25 Mbps
- Hulu: 3-16 Mbps
- Twitch: < 4 Mbps download, 3-6 Mbps upload
- Mixer: < 4 Mbps download, 2-4 Mbps upload
- Spotify: 320 Kbps
Common Streaming Activities in Today’s Households
- Streaming movies and TV shows on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, etc.
- Broadcasting live gameplay on Twitch or Mixer
- Listening to music on Spotify or Apple Music
- Gaming competitively online
Although the list looks short, there are numerous streaming platforms that cater to different users and their needs. Competitors abound, some users go for the streaming service that’s already included in their internet plan — often free for a limited time.
What is streaming?
In layman’s terms, streaming is a method of viewing video or listening to audio content on your TV, computers, and mobile devices. You don’t have to download anything and can play back the content in real-time. Currently, the “big five”2 streaming services are Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon Video, and Disney+. Netflix has approximately 73 million subscribers3 in the second quarter of 2020 and has continuously seen market growth since its inception.
Streaming does require data just like anything else that’s sent and received over the internet. This also means that network latency and congestion are common issues that users experience, especially in large households with multiple streamers. Unlimited data is your best friend when it comes to streaming, but there are ISPs like AT&T Internet and Xfinity who offer generous data caps.
How Internet Connection Types Affect Streaming
At this point, you’re probably wondering which internet types are best for streaming. Of the 2,659 internet providers so far, almost half provide fiber-optic internet, which is considered the gold standard of the internet. Fiber-optic coverage is more limited, however, so it’s not always a viable option for consumers. Let’s take a closer look at how different internet types affect streaming.
- DSL: Otherwise known as the Digital Subscriber Line, DSL internet delivers data over telephone lines. While it’s more common than cable internet, DSL’s speeds range between 50-100 Mbps whereas the latter can reach up to 1,000 Mbps, depending on the internet provider.
- Cable: Faster than DSL, cable internet uses existing cable TV coaxial lines to transfer data. Modern upgrades have allowed cable internet to catch up to fiber-optic internet in terms of download speeds. With speeds as low as 15 Mbps and as high as 1,000 Mbps, there’s more wiggle room when finding different speeds for the right price.
- Fiber-optic: By transmitting data through glass-threaded wires at light speeds, fiber-optic is the fastest internet out there. Speeds reach up to 1,000 Mbps, so the chances of you experiencing buffering on multiple devices are very slim. On top of that, upload speeds are up to par, so uploading files or videos takes minutes versus hours from other internet types.
- Satellite: Most broadband types don’t cover rural neighborhoods, which is where satellite internet steps in. By transmitting data to and from a satellite dish outside your home and a satellite in space, internet connection is possible. The top two satellite internet providers offer speeds up to 25 Mbps, so that already meets the HD streaming quality level.
In other words, not only should you check to see if these internet types are available in your area but you should also keep in mind how they slow down or enhance your streaming experience. Like we mentioned earlier, streaming platforms usually don’t require super fast internet speeds but it does help improve the video quality on multiple devices.
Data Cap Requirements for Streaming
Other than the broadband type affecting your streaming experience, data caps play an integral role to how often you can stream. If you can afford unlimited data plans, then we recommend that you go for it. But, if those plans are beyond your budget, then it’s time to consider just how much data you need in order to enjoy several streaming platforms at the most optimal quality.
Here are the data requirements for some of the most popular streaming platforms:
- Netflix: SD quality – 1 Gb/hour; HD quality – up to 3 GB/hour
- Disney+: SD quality – .06 GB/hour; HD quality – up to 2 GB/hour; 4K quality – 7.7 GB/hour
- Hulu: SD + HD quality – .06-1.3GB/hour; 4K quality – 7GB/hour
- Twitch: HD quality – 1.35 GB/hour
- Spotify: Normal setting – 43.2 MB/hour
Keep in mind that data usage varies on different devices. It’s also important to remember that household size and multiple devices will affect your streams. Small households of two to three individuals might not need unlimited data if they’re not constantly streaming on multiple devices. Large households but with only one streamer might also benefit from internet plans with data caps. If the large household has multiple streamers across multiple devices, then unlimited data might be the road to go.
Determining data caps for streaming is situational, as each household is unique. The best approach to this is to test how much data each person uses for one month before deciding on data caps or unlimited data.
Top Internet Providers for Streaming
Here’s where we introduce our top picks for the best internet providers with a variety of internet plans that offer seamless streaming. There are many points to consider, so while the monthly rate might seem appealing to you, the download speeds might not meet your standards. For now, see how some of the most popular internet providers differ in their prices, connection types, speeds, and data caps.
|Internet Provider||Connection Type||Monthly Price Range||Download Speeds||Data Cap|
|AT&T Internet||DSL, Fiber, or Fixed Wireless||$49.99-59.99*||5-1,000 Mbps||1 TB or unlimited data|
|Xfinity||Cable or Fiber||$49.95-299.95*||15-2,000 Mbps||1 TB or unlimited data|
|Spectrum||Cable||$49.99-109.99*||100-940 Mbps||Unlimited data|
|CenturyLink||DSL or Fiber||$49-65*||20-940 Mbps||1024 GB or unlimited data|
|EarthLink||DSL or Fiber||$14.95-99.95*||3-1,000 Mbps||Unlimited data|
|Verizon Internet||DSL or Fiber||$39.99-79.99*||15-940 Mbps||Unlimited data|
|Optimum||Cable or Fiber||$40-75*||300-1,000 Mbps||Unlimited data|
|Frontier Communications||DSL or Fiber||$27.99-74.99*||6-940 Mbps||Unlimited data|
|Cox||Cable||$29.99-99.99*||10-940 Mbps||1280 GB or unlimited data|
|Rise Broadband||Fixed Wireless||$29.95-59.99*||25-50 Mbps||250 GB or unlimited data|
|HughesNet||Satellite||$59.99-149.99*||25 Mbps||10-50 GB|
|Viasat||Satellite||$50-150*||12-15 Mbps||12-50 GB or unlimited data|
*Pricing subject to change. Terms and conditions apply.
Not every internet provider will always fit into one box, but we’re going to recommend the best one for each type of streamer below.
AT&T Internet — Best for Twitch Streamers & Competitive Online Gamers
Most AT&T Internet plans have unlimited data, so for Twitch streamers and online gamers who play long sessions, they won’t complain about any lag or disconnections. AT&T Internet supplies DSL, fiber, and fixed wireless internet, although the first two are more common among residential customers. Their lowest priced plan, the Internet 1000, which is fiber internet, starts at $49.99 per month for the first year; download speeds are up to 1,000 Mbps along with upload speeds.
Xfinity — Best for Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ Bingers
In terms of internet speeds that go beyond 1,000 Mbps, Xfinity takes the cake with plans that offer speeds up to 2,000 Mbps. While it doesn’t take much to stream SD and HD video quality, for streamers who enjoy their movies and shows in ultra HD or 4K, internet speed will matter a lot. This is especially the case for a large household with several individuals who stream across multiple devices. Xfinity offers cable and fiber internet, with the Performance Starter Internet as the lowest priced plan at $49.95 per month; speeds reach up to 15 Mbps and there are no data caps.
Spectrum — Best for Heavy Data Uploaders
We talk about download speeds more often than upload speeds, but Spectrum is where you can go wild with their unlimited data. Upload speeds of at least 10 Mbps are considered pretty fast, and Spectrum’s highest priced plan, the Spectrum GIG Internet, has speeds of 35 Mbps. If you or someone in your household uploads and hosts large files, Spectrum won’t limit your data use and can speed up the time it takes to upload one file when you upgrade your internet.
HughesNet — Best for Large Households in Rural Neighborhoods
As another leading satellite internet provider, HughesNet’s internet speeds reach up to 25 Mbps across most plans. The only downside is that there aren’t any plans that don’t have data caps. That said, their plans are slightly cheaper than Viasat by a very thin margin. Their lowest priced plan has speeds up to 25 Mbps and costs $59.99 per month. Ideally, HughesNet suits large households in rural neighborhoods where other broadband types like DSL and cable don’t cover.
So, now that you’ve made it this far, here is where you pause and consider the following questions before signing up for or switching to another internet provider.
- Do you live in a small or large household with multiple streamers?
- Do you prefer watching movies and TV shows in 4K resolution?
- What is your monthly budget for internet service?
- Do your streams buffer or lag frequently?
- How many devices are connected to the internet and in use simultaneously?
As a general word of advice, it’s always best to do your research before committing to an internet service provider. There are other factors besides streaming quality that should be on your list of internet requirements. Finding the right ISP takes time and commitment.
A Recap on Finding the Best Internet for Streaming in 2021
Streaming isn’t as simple as choosing a show and bingeing it for hours. When it comes to finding the best internet for streaming, there are several crucial aspects to consider:
- Common streaming activities in today’s households
- Internet connection types
- Ideal internet speeds for streaming in SD, HD, or 4K
- The effect of internet types on download and upload speeds
- Data cap limitations and slowdowns
Among the broadband types, fiber-optic goes the farthest with speed. The pandemic has pushed consumers to add to their subscriptions, but these numbers are constantly changing as some states are beginning to reopen businesses and lift stay-at-home restrictions. Streaming has its pros and cons, but we should mention that bundling your services is an alternative if you aren’t ready to cut cable out of your life. No matter what type of streamer you are, the internet will decide how your streaming will play out.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Best Internet for Streaming
Does faster internet mean better streaming?
Faster internet does not always mean better streaming — going beyond the internet speed you currently have won’t necessarily get you a clearer video. For example, you only need speeds of at least 5 Mbps to stream HD quality on Netflix. For 4K resolution, you will need speeds of at least 25 Mbps. Faster internet reduces buffering, which occurs more often in large households with multiple streamers.
What is considered high speed internet in 2021?
High speed internet is considered to be at least 25 Mbps and a minimum upload speed of 3 Mbps. In simpler terms, it’s faster than dial-up internet. As technology improves, so does the need for faster internet, in which case the baseline has bumped up to 100 Mbps for high speed internet.
Is 100 Mbps fast enough for streaming?
An internet speed of 100 Mbps is fast enough for streaming, as most streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and Twitch don’t need more than 25 Mbps. If you want 4K resolution, you will need speeds of at least 25 Mbps.
How can I make my internet speed go faster?
In order to make your internet speed go faster, you’ll want to check to see how many devices are connected. More than one device in use tends to slow down the speed along with performing multiple tasks such as streaming music, sending emails, and downloading large files. Upgrading your internet is your best bet when it comes to avoiding slow speeds.
- https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/tv/2020/03/31/coronavirus-nielsen-tallies-big-jump-streaming-among-shut-ins/5094586002/ ↩
- https://www.comscore.com/Insights/Press-Releases/2020/5/Streaming-Services-Continue-to-See-Shifts-in-Viewing-Behaviors-During-the-COVID-19-Pandemic ↩
- https://www.statista.com/statistics/250937/quarterly-number-of-netflix-streaming-subscribers-in-the-us/ ↩