The internet is vital to most of us and has only become more crucial since the pandemic forced us to rely on the internet for information, communication, and in many cases, most of the goods and services we were used to getting in person. And while there is some understanding that infrastructure cannot change overnight and that more of us are using more bandwidth than before, there is still the desire for fast and reliable internet across the board. And most of us need it.
Yet to achieve a good internet speed, it might be helpful to understand exactly what we want and how to get it. Therefore, we think you must learn at least the basics of your internet connection. Here is everything you need to know about internet speed, including what is a good internet speed to have in your home:
What Is Internet Speed?
It's a trickier explanation than what you might intuitively know. Nearly everyone has an idea of what fast internet looks like. It involves being able to download and upload files in seconds, not experiencing any problems with the connection, and no lag when working online in any capacity. It is the feeling of a seamless gaming session or a beautiful 4K picture on your streaming device.
Yet let's go into it a bit further. The internet is a system of different computer networks connected worldwide. When something is "online," it somehow connects to the internet. With permission, devices can access information on servers connected to the internet. When you visit a website, you are sending a request to a server to send the requested information to your device.
Your internet speed effectively measures how fast the request comes to the server and gets fulfilled. It also measures how fast the data can be sent from the server to your computer.
Yet the internet doesn't exist in the air for the most part, despite data plans and WiFi. Physical cables mainly connect it; even wireless technologies eventually rely on these cables. Some of these cables are better than others, and sometimes the overall infrastructure can send information faster. Other factors are on the server's side, but these are outside your control.
And when you pay for internet service, you generally pay to access a certain amount of bandwidth on the line. This is how there are different plans available from providers.
There is more to the internet, and this is a simple explanation, but we hope it provides you with a baseline to work from.
The Different Facets of Internet Speed
Download Speed: Download speed is the figure internet plans are advertised by and the thing that most people think about first when people talk about "internet speed." And it isn't the only thing that matters where your connection is concerned, but it is probably the most important thing to most people. It is measured in Mbps, and the standard for a good speed here has improved dramatically over the years.
Upload Speed: For professionals, gamers to a certain extent, and people who make many video calls, upload speed will be just as important as download speed. With most plans, the upload speed will be a fraction of the download speed, which is perfectly fine for most families. Specialists who know they will need an exceptional upload speed will want to look for it specifically. It, like download speed, is generally measured in Mbps.
Latency/Ping Rate: The final facet one finds on a speed test is the ping rate, otherwise known as latency. This is essentially how long it takes for a request you make to get fulfilled. You want this to be as low as possible. The best example of a high ping rate is when someone is playing a multiplayer game online, and you feel like you are a second behind everyone else. Just know that multiple factors go into this beyond your internet service. You will have a high ping rate if you communicate with a server halfway across the world, no matter what else you do.
Consistency: The fastest connection in the world won't make anyone happy if it cuts out regularly. People won't say they have fast internet if their Zoom calls drop. Therefore, it's essential to know that a connection will be consistent if you say it's fast. After all, would you say a car is fast if it suddenly and randomly breaks every once in a while?
Simultaneous Connections: One other thing we would like to include in this section is that you should know how many simultaneous connections your network can support. This isn't determined by your ISP but by your equipment (modem and router or a combo of the two in one device).
This is generally it, but you might hear more specialized terms in your research or terms about the more nuanced facets of internet speed. You might also hear different terms in advertising or based on your area, but it all comes down to the above.
How Fast Does My Internet Need to Be to "X"?
Practically, this is the question most people are asking. They want to know if they have a good enough connection before investing in that new 4K TV. Technology is a significant investment for some families, and so is internet service. Knowing if a plan will be enough is best before committing to it.
In some cases, though, we should probably rephrase the question. You will want to consider "how much bandwidth do I need" instead, given that there is a constant connection required for some devices. And in most cases, you can do anything with a basic connection; the slow internet will highly inconvenience you. So you'll want to ask how fast your internet needs to be to experience no problems.
Let's talk about some of the common internet use cases:
Standard Browsing and Usage
It's hard to put the everyday activities of the online day into a category, but when you are using the internet for basic social media browsing or looking up obscure topics on Wikipedia, you are still using the internet. You still need some form of connection to download those pictures and paragraphs.
The good news is that standard browsing like this doesn't require all that much. If you have an internet speed of about 2Mbps, you should be able to use social media (if not watch video), check your email, and do general surfing. You will want more for everything else you do, but someone reading the news in the morning isn't going to be a major consideration.
You will want a good internet connection if you're streaming video (Netflix or Hulu, for instance). But how good? That depends mainly on the resolution you are streaming content at. And if you're like most people, you want a good resolution. The standard for new televisions is now 4K, and it's hard to find a screen that provides less than 1080p at maximum. To stream a video, you'll want the following:
- If you are streaming content in 4K, you will want a great connection, at least 25 Mbps, but likely much more than that for everything else you are suing.
- Streaming content at 1080p will generally require a download speed of 10Mbps, though we recommend at least a bit above that.
- Standard-definition streaming (720p) requires a connection of about 5Mbps.
- And streaming video at even lower resolutions won't require much connection, with the exact Mbps varying a bit. Though if you have less than 5Mbps, you have more significant internet problems to contend with.
Overall, not much will change regarding the bandwidth needed if you are watching live-streamed content. You will want a more consistent connection to ensure the feed doesn't drop out.
Video Calls and Conferencing
With the coming of the pandemic also came a wave of Zoom calls and video conferencing the likes we have never seen before. And those calls have minimum requirements when it comes to internet speed. It's surprisingly not much, but you will want a stable connection so the calls don't drop.
However, the internet requirements for video conferencing can vary based on the platform used and the number of people on the call. The minimum usually falls between the range of 1-5Mbps.
While some conferencing apps might say only 1Mbps is needed, it is mostly misleading. We recommend a bare minimum of 5Mbps; in truth, you'll want more than that, especially if you are on large calls requiring decent video. The more download speed you have, the better off you will be.
You will also want to consider your upload speed, which you will want to have at least 5Mbps if you're using video. However, a higher speed will allow you to upload better videos.
Online gaming doesn't require as fast internet as you might think. Microsoft recommends a baseline of 3Mbps download and 0.5 Mbps upload for online play. That is hardly anything. However, you'll want a bit of a buffer higher than that in case other devices in the household get used, or you need to use the internet for something else (voice chat might also use bandwidth, for instance).
As discussed in the previous section, your latency or ping rate is more important and noticeable for gaming. The recommendations of what your ping rate should be will vary. Some say 150 milliseconds for basic play, and this is fine. That ping rate won't entirely ruin your experience. However, there will still be a huge difference between a ping rate of 150 milliseconds and something like 30 milliseconds. Keeping a low ping rate in genres such as fighting games and first-person shooters is all the more critical. It's not always under your control, but competitive gamers will not be happy with anything but an optimal ping rate.
However, you want a connection as fast as possible when it comes to downloading the games in the first place. AAA titles from the gaming industry are getting larger and larger in file size, with a few games reaching over 100GB. Downloading that with a 10Mbps connection leads to a bad time and a test of your patience.
Smart Home Purposes
On top of computers, streaming devices, your smartphone, and the major electronics, you also have to consider all the smart home devices you have or want in your home. Most of them require a constant connection, and some require more bandwidth than others. Yet individually, they don't require all that much. To be safe, you can assume that most smart home devices need 1Mbps bandwidth. We're talking about smart thermostats, light bulbs (each light bulb), smart speakers, door locks, and the like.
If the smart device has a regularly working camera, you will want to plan on having bandwidth equal to 5Mbps for each device with a camera. Upload speed will also matter more here so the footage can reach where it needs to go (especially if you're away from home and want to monitor things).
While you might not be running all your smart home devices at once, it is safer to presume that you will at some point and prepare for that eventuality.
While all the above make it sound like you only need 50 Mbps maximum, in practice, this isn't the truth. The above uses don't happen in a vacuum. Your internet speed will often be a little less than that. On top of that, most households have more than one device using the internet at one time. Regular updates and downloads also often use the internet, often without you knowing at the time.
You also need to consider potential WiFi slowdown, your internet service isn't always perfect, and other things that could cause a little bit of slowdown. Essentially, you need to prepare for as much as possible, which means having a better connection above the minimum of what you think you need is best. Additionally, ensuring you have the most consistent connection possible is a good strategy.
So What Is a Good Internet Speed Today?
Opinions may differ on this topic, but we would consider a download speed of 100Mbps to be "good" and more than fine for the average household. As we explained earlier, it partially depends on the number of devices in the household, but 100Mbps allows for a 25Mbps bandwidth for four devices simultaneously (in theory, if not in practice). That should be plenty for average use.
However, for many people, the faster the internet, the better the experience. This is especially true with such circumstances as professionals who need to download and upload files regularly and other people who are heavy users. There is a reason why gigabit internet (1 Gbps) is so lauded: hardly anyone will need internet better than that for years to come unless some new technology takes the world by storm.
Types of Connections
When discussing internet speed or shopping for internet service, it's essential to understand the different connection and service types. Effectively, through what medium or wire type are you getting your connection? Some ways are clearly better than others, and some have advantages and disadvantages. Here's a basic breakdown of the main types:
Fiber: By all accounts, the best option for internet today is fiber internet. Fiber internet uses fiber optic cables to transmit information. It is reliable, provides excellent download and upload speeds, and should be the first thing you seek. You will often find gigabit internet plans from fiber providers; if not, you'll still find high-speed and reliable internet.
Cable: Cable internet uses cable wires to transmit information (internet signal, effectively). Since cable is widespread across the United States, cable internet is available in the most populated areas. Cable internet is often capable of the speeds of fiber, and in rare cases, you might see cable internet plans that offer download speeds of 2Gbps or even 4Gbps. However, cable connections are less reliable and can be slowed down by people in your area using the internet.
DSL: DSL utilizes phone lines (but not in the same way as dial-up) to provide an internet connection. However, DSL does not provide the best connection, and a DSL plan usually has a horrible upload speed. Consider DSL as a last resort if cable and fiber internet is unavailable.
Satellite: Satellite internet is something of its own thing; if you need it, you probably already know about it. Satellite can be available practically anywhere and provide a somewhat reasonable connection, but that's about it. It costs a lot, has an unreliable connection, and users are usually limited in how much data they can use. It may improve in the coming years, but as things stand, we only recommend it if nothing else halfway decent is available in your area.
Dial-Up: Dial-up internet is a joke to most people these days, and for a good reason. It would be hard to do even basic browsing at the speeds it is capable of. Additionally, using it ties up your landline phone connection. Despite this, 250,000 households still use it. Don't be one of them, and pick any other option before it.
Mobile Data: Using your mobile data as your primary internet connection is not ideal, and it may not last very long depending on what other devices you use and what kind of data plan you have. However, for people who don't use much other than their phone, it might be an acceptable option for someone with an unlimited data allowance.
While there is a clear hierarchy here regarding what's best, what's best isn't always what is available, which is why you should be familiar with all these options.
What About the Cost?
It's easy to say "get as fast internet as you possibly can" if you aren't paying for it. And we fully admit that. After a certain point, there can be diminishing returns on the convenience of fast internet. A gigabit plan can cost over $100 a month, which is a lot for many households. So in determining what is good, you might need to balance performance with price.
However, just as much as you value your money, you must also value your time and state of mind as well. Dealing with constant lag and buffering wastes your time and causes immense frustration. You'll likely avoid much of that with a better connection, which should be worth something to you. Combine all the time saved over the month and compare it to the extra expense. For most families, we imagine the better internet will be worth it.
You also might want to look out for a good deal, as with one you can get great internet at a reasonable price, at least for a few years. You can use this very site to learn what's available in your area.
Using an Internet Speed Test
If you're unsure about how well your internet is operating now or you are wondering if something is slowing down your connection from what it should be, the first thing you might want to do is use a speed test. There are plenty of different ones out there, each with its quirks and advantages, but as a general rule, any major ones should work just fine. You should be able to see the download speed, upload speed, and ping rate, perhaps among other metrics.
When using a speed test, we recommend the following:
- Try to use the speed test under normal conditions, but don't have anything major using up your bandwidth. Pause that large movie or game download.
- If you test from multiple devices, you can determine whether the issue is with one device in particular or your connection as a whole.
- If you are worried about your WiFi network, we recommend testing your internet from multiple home areas.
- You should test your connection at different times of the day. Sometimes a connection will be perfectly fine most of the time, but during peak hours the speed will slip.
- If you're worried about the test, try testing your connection with multiple speed test apps.
When performing a speed test, you might find that your actual download speed is a bit (or more than a bit) less than the speed that was advertised in your plan. This is, unfortunately, normal. However, if your actual speed is regularly 80 percent or less than the advertised speed in normal conditions, then it is a cause for concern and a reason to contact your ISP. While things can't be perfect, you generally deserve what you pay for.
What Can Slow Down an Internet Connection
If you are experiencing a slower connection that what you are used to, don't panic. Most of the reasons can be solved (we'll review a few solutions in the next section), and panicking won't help deal with the ones outside your control. Here are some of the main reasons people experience speed or connection issues:
- If you are using a router, you should ensure that it is in a good location and that nothing is interfering with the signal. You will also want to make sure that your equipment is configured properly.
- Alternatively, if you are using an ethernet cable, then you might want to check how old it is. Cables degrade just like anything else, and getting a replacement is extremely cheap.
- In rare cases, especially if you have older equipment, your connection might be more than your modem and router can handle. This leads to waste, and it means an upgrade is in order.
- There could be too much of a strain on the network regarding the number of devices. Every network has its limit, and you cannot download everything at once.
- It might be in the hands of the ISP, which is experiencing a heavy load at the moment, or some infrastructure problems. Natural accidents happen, and ISPs are not in control of everything. However, if it is a regular issue and the ISP is not fixing things correctly, then it is a problem that is their responsibility.
- Your ISP might be throttling your connection for one reason or another.
- Your device may be infected with malware that is using the connection, making everything else seem slower.
- The device you are using that has slow internet might be too far away from the router to get a strong connection.
When looking at a slow connection, remember to figure out first whether you are dealing with a high latency problem or just a download speed problem.
What To Do If Your Internet Connection Is Too Slow
Ok, so your internet is slower than it should be. That's a significant inconvenience and something that should be corrected if possible. You deserve the internet speed you are paying for. Yet troubleshooting slow internet isn't always as simple as pressing a button (though sometimes it actually is). While you may want to consult more in-depth resources if you're worried about the problem, we recommend trying the following:
- Resetting your modem and router (or combo) can be a good start. It only takes a minute and will solve a lot of problems.
- Make sure the placement of your equipment is in the right area of your home for the best WiFi setup. If you don't think you can reach everywhere in your home, you might want to invest in a mesh network or a WiFi extender.
- What WiFi frequency band are you using, if not both? There is a 2.4Ghz band that has a longer range but is slower, and a 5Ghz band that is faster but has a shorter range. Each have their place and purpose.
- Are there devices or processes running that are taking up your bandwidth? Are any of them unnecessary? Pruning the excess usage can help you get the speed where it matters.
- Sometimes things are outside your control, and you may want to contact your ISP about the problem. Patience might be required here as they go through the motions of troubleshooting (perhaps involving things we already told you about). And they could possibly give you the runaround, with ISPs not having the best reputation with customer service. Nonetheless, you might be able to get an explanation of what's wrong, even if it is out of everyone's hands.
- Eventually, if you are constantly dealing with problems outside your control and your ISP isn't helping, it might be time to switch providers if you can. You do not want the stress of constantly battling your ISP. In today's world, having a stable, fast, and reliable connection is more important than ever. If your ISP is doing a good job, but your connection still feels slow or insufficient, it might be a sign to upgrade to a better plan.
- If you feel locked into your current plan, you probably won't run into much resistance to upgrading a plan with your current provider. Additionally, a new provider will likely help you out of your old contract, as they're quite eager to get new customers.
There may be additional solutions, but they will be dependent on your area, your service provider, and other factors. We recommend doing further research if the above doesn't help.
While some people need more internet speed than others, no one loses by having the best connection available to them. With that in mind, we hope you have a better understanding of internet speed and the internet in general from reading this. Whatever moves you need to make, we hope they get done quickly and easily. Keep browsing to your delight, and we encourage you to come back to this article as you feel the need.