With 4K online videos becoming increasingly common, games regularly exceeding 100 GB in size, and many web pages being so large that they would take the entire day to load not too long ago, it seems that everyone needs a faster internet connection. But what internet speed do you really need for streaming, online gaming, or browsing the web?
Internet speed, also called bandwidth, is the amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time from the internet to your home computer or mobile device, or vice versa. It consists of two numbers: download speed and upload speed.
Both download and upload speed are most commonly measured in megabits per second (Mbps). If you want to download or upload a 100 MB (megabyte) file and you have a 100 Mbps internet connection, the time it would take the file to download or upload is 8.39 seconds. Why not 10 seconds? Because there are actually 8 bits in each byte, so 8 megabits is equal to 1 megabyte (8 Mb = 1 MB).
Internet service providers love using megabits per second instead of megabytes per second because it makes their internet packages sound more appealing. To avoid any confusion, we recommend you use a data transfer speed calculator (such as this one) to easily estimate file upload, download, or transfer speed.
In addition to your download and upload speed, you should also pay attention to the latency of your internet connection, which is how long it takes data to travel between its source and destination. Latency is measured in milliseconds (ms), and it can be just as important as bandwidth, depending on how you tend to spend your time online.
Of course, you can have the fastest internet connection in the world, but you won’t be able to enjoy it much unless you also have a strong WiFi signal. Use a network analyzer such as NetSpot to easily conduct a wireless survey and see how you can optimize your WiFi network for better performance.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent agency of the United States government created by statute to regulate interstate communications, families with multiple internet users or people who frequently stream high-definition online content need internet speeds of 12-25 Mbps. As a general rule of thumb, this recommendation is actually quite sound, but it doesn’t exactly tell the whole story.
In reality, all internet users have different needs, which is why a 25 Mbps internet connection may be perfectly fine for some but completely insufficient for others. To help you determine what internet speed you really need, we’ve broken everything down by category.
If you want to stream content online in real-time, you need a fairly beefy internet connection, depending on the quality of your stream. To stream in HD quality, 25 Mbps upload is recommended. To stream in 4K, 100 Mbps upload is recommended. Of course, you may need a lot more than 25 or 100 Mbps if you intend to do other things while you’re streaming or if you’re sharing your internet connection with other people.
Your download speed matters as well, but not so much as your upload speed. A symmetrical internet connection with 25 Mbps download and 25 Mbps upload should be just about perfect.
When it comes to gaming, having low latency is everything. It doesn’t matter if you have a 100/100 Mbps fiber-optic internet connection if your latency constantly exceeds 100 ms. Ideally, you want your latency to be around 20 ms, but around 30 is fine as well. And if you’re not a competitive gamer and don’t play twitch shooters and other games where a few milliseconds can be the difference between life and death, 50 ms will probably be fine as well.
Most gamers don’t need more than 25 Mbps to play online games, but it never hurts to have a little extra bandwidth just to prevent your games from lagging when other people on the same network start downloading files and watching online videos.
Speaking of online videos, Netflix actually has official bandwidth requirements listed on its site, here they are:
As you can see, you don’t really need a fast internet connection to watch Netflix – just don’t expect the quality to be great. If you have a Full HD television, make sure that you have a connection speed of 5.0 megabits per second or faster to avoid pixelation.
The official bandwidth requirements of Netflix are also applicable for other online streaming services, including YouTube and Twitch.
For general web surfing, 1 Mbps is generally enough. The only problem is that some websites contain nothing but text, while other sites host a plethora of large images and other multimedia content. In practice, you can expect most sites to load in just a few seconds with a 1 Mbps internet connection but be prepared for some sites to take as much as a minute to load fully.
If you don’t want to wait that long, get an internet connection with a bandwidth of at least 10 Mbps.