Internet service providers always want to sell you faster plans. However, most households don’t need the fastest internet. But when asking “what speed internet do I need,” the answer might be tricky. Thankfully, we’ve got you covered.
Below, you’ll see all the different situations impacting your internet needs.
How much internet do I need?
The average download speed for US citizens is 54.99 Mbps. So it is safe to assume that most households (like yours) can handle 50 Mbps.
Be aware that internet speed questions often refer to your download speed. So unless otherwise stated, assume we are speaking about how fast you download things.
Your household might have unique needs, so here is a breakdown of speeds related to online activities:
Speeds of 10 Mbps:
- Browsing the web
- Checking your email
- Streaming music
- Having one device
Speeds of 25 Mbps:
- Streaming high-definition video on one device
- Video calling
- Audio streaming for multiple devices
- Having three devices
Speeds of 50 Mbps:
- Streaming 4K video on one or two devices
- Video calling with HD cameras
- Playing multiplayer video games
- Six devices
Speeds of 100 Mbps:
- Multiple 4K streams on many devices
- Video calling with many participants
- Twelve devices
- Downloading large files at a decent rate
- Online gaming for numerous household members
Speeds of 200 Mbps:
- Support for about 25 devices
- Livestreaming content from your computer
- High-quality one-to-many video calls
Speeds of 500 Mbps:
- Downloading large files incredibly fast
- Hosting game servers with distant friends
- Seamless use between large families and many devices
Speeds of 1 Gbps:
- Hosting large, public game servers
- Immediate downloading of massive files
- Almost unlimited devices
Finding out the best speed for your needs (step by step)
When asking “how fast of internet do I need,” a step-by-step process can help. Below, you’ll find a method you can use to get the best internet for your needs.
If you want an alternative solution to finding appropriately fast internet, you can use the InternetAdvisor Internet Speed Wizard. It saves you a bit of time on the research process.
1. Know how many people use your internet
Start by getting a list of how many people use your internet. If you have a family, count everyone (including yourself). Each person is worth 10 Mbps; keep that in mind for later.
Below is a general set of guidelines on people to internet speed:
- One person: 25 to 100 Mbps
- Two people: 50 to 100 Mbps
- Three people: 50 to 200 Mbps
- Four people: 100 to 300 Mbps
- Five (or more): 200 Mbps to 1 Gbps
The vast variance in numbers comes from your household’s online activities. If you don’t do bandwidth-sucking activities, you won’t need faster internet.
You might also include regular visitors in this tally. But only if they visit a couple of times a week. It’s usually better to overestimate the speed you need to avoid internet slowdowns.
For example, if you have a family of three, you might start with 30 Mbps. Most likely, this will mean you’ll seek an internet speed of 50 Mbps. A speed of 30 doesn’t exist with most providers.
2. Count the number (and type) of devices you have
The number of people in your house is a good start. Next, you’ll want to find out the number of devices.
Your router’s admin console contains information about the number of devices on your network. To access your admin console, you’ll need to type your router’s IP address in any browser’s address bar.
Typically, your router’s IP is found on the side of the device. Otherwise, you might have set up a custom IP with your internet provider. If you don’t remember, you can reset your router.
You’ll want to count all the devices you currently have. This includes devices not regularly active and guest devices that only come by occasionally.
If you want, group them by frequency of use. Many routers have parental control features that allow you to track the amount of time a device spends online.
Renaming your devices will help you identify your needs faster. “Tim’s work laptop” is easier to remember than “PC-12254487.”
For our example, a household of three has 15 devices. Here’s the breakdown of these 15 devices:
- Two of them are tablets
- Three of them are computers
- Two of them are smartphones
- Five of them are smart home devices
- One is a game console
- The remaining four are guests that come over sometimes
This focus on device type brings us to an important question: Do smart home devices take a lot of bandwidth?
The answer: not usually. Most smart home devices do not require fast speeds. Most smart devices don’t need more than 1 Mbps.
This might change if your smart devices include an active video feed. For example, security systems offer app alerts with motion detection. These will take about 5 Mbps.
3. Group the devices by online activities
When asking “what speed internet do I need,” the way you use it is crucial. If you have internet suited for checking email and your family wants to stream 4K movies, you might have problems.
Here’s a breakdown of potential activities and how much they take:
- Online gaming for one person: 25 Mbps
- Streaming audio: 3 Mbps
- Streaming video: 10 Mbps
- Downloading large files: 50 Mbps
- Streaming 4K video: 25 Mbps
- Video calls: 5 Mbps
- Browsing, social media, and checking email: 1 Mbps
By applying these uses to your devices, you can apply realistic numbers to your internet needs. Let’s return to our example to see this in action.
In this example, the game console is used for online gaming (25 Mbps), and one of your computers does the same occasionally. Since the two are often used simultaneously, you might need 50 Mbps to handle this.
This household’s tablets are used for a combination of audio and video streaming. Since leisure time is the same for everyone, you can add another 26 Mbps (10+10+3+3). You might also use them to make video calls to your grandparents, adding another 5 to that total.
One computer is a work computer we will return to. Your second computer is used for browsing and regular internet use (1 Mbps). The backup computer is used infrequently for the same browsing activities (1 Mbps). Your guests don’t typically use your internet, so they might be worth 1 Mbps each.
You would add them up to a total of 87 Mbps. So you will likely benefit from a minimum speed of 100 Mbps (rounding up) during your home’s peak internet usage.
What is the best internet speed when working from home?
If you are searching for “what internet speed do I need working from home,” the research process is similar. However, a good at-home starting speed is 25 Mbps.
Your work-from-home speed requirements depend on your job duties. Here’s a quick rundown of job duties compared to internet speed:
- Research, sending emails, browsing: 10 Mbps
- One-on-one video calls and streaming audio: 25 Mbps
- High-quality video calls with under 10 participants: 50 Mbps
- Fast downloading of large files: 100 Mbps
- High-quality video calls under 50 participants: 200 Mbps
- Light server hosting (such as through web development): 500 Mbps
- Hosting and managing a dedicated, public server: 1 Gbps
You’ll also need to consider whether roommates or family members are using the internet simultaneously. However, if you are the only one home, you shouldn't worry about adding extra. Instead, be sure that your work duties match your speed.
4. How to find an internet plan with this information
Using our three-person household above, we get the following information:
- Three people add 30 Mbps
- General activities add 87 Mbps
- Smart home devices add 5 Mbps
- The family does not work from home
The combination of activities, devices, and people tell us that we need a minimum of 122 Mbps. By rounding up, the most likely internet speed you’ll end up with is 200 Mbps.
However, asking internet service providers using this minimum number is a great start. Asking about speeds that come close to your requirements helps you avoid overpaying for the internet.
But if you want to compare internet speeds in your area, you can use InternetAdvisor’s Find a Provider tool. By entering your zip code and typing the search button, it brings you a list of providers.
If you are looking for the fastest internet providers in your area, focus on those that offer 1 or 2 Gbps. InternetAdvisor’s provider list allows you to see the best available internet plans.
Tips when searching for fast internet
Below, we will go through some valuable tips when answering the “what speed internet do I need” question.
Megabytes vs. gigabytes - what’s the difference?
A gigabyte (GB) is one thousand megabytes (MB). Megabytes are equal to one thousand kilobytes (KB). You’ll see these terms in use for two situations.
First, adding the “ps” at the end stands for “per second.” So Gbps is the greatest, followed by Mbps and Kbps, respectively. You’ll see this in use for both download and upload speed.
The other way you see its use is through data caps. Internet data caps are monthly limitations set by your provider. You need to pay a fee if you exceed those caps or your internet is slowed down through data throttling.
When asking “how much internet do I need,” you might need a specific data cap. Otherwise, you can look for services that offer unlimited data. If you regularly go over data caps, look for an upgrade. Otherwise, you have nothing to worry about.
The differences between ping, latency, and lag
Ping concerns the time it takes for data to get from one point to another. Latency refers to the interference potential as communication distances become longer. Lag is the visible delay you see due to your activities being too much for your internet connection.
Service technicians and customer service providers might use these terms, so it’s good to keep them in mind.
Latency happens more often with long-distance communication. Satellite internet providers suffer from latency more often. In cases of latency, a technician might need to check on your dish.
Lag is a clear sign you need to upgrade your connection. Typically, you see this while playing video games or streaming movies. You likely need more speed if you spend an abnormal time buffering or stuttering.
How does upload speed help me?
Upload speed is the speed at which your computer communicates with outside sources. You use this feature to make internet calls (video or audio).
Must upload speeds don’t exceed 5 Mbps. This rate helps you with most one-on-one communications.
If you use video conferencing apps for one-to-many communications of 10 or more people, you might need more (about 10 Mbps). Anything more than that is only helpful for server hosts or those who have substantial video conferences (100+ people).
What is the fastest type of internet?
The fastest type of internet is fiber-optic internet, which offers the highest speeds at several gigabytes per second. Regarding speed, this is followed by cable, DSL, satellite, and fixed wireless.
Here’s a quick breakdown of speed potential based on connection type:
- Fiber offers speeds up to 10 Gbps
- Cable provides speeds up to 300 Mbps
- DSL internet offers speeds up to 100 Mbps
- Satellite offers speeds up to 100 Mbps
- Fixed wireless offers speeds up to 100 Mbps
Why do internet service providers offer different speeds for different locations?
Your internet provider offers different speeds for two reasons: availability of connection types and closeness to a provider’s server.
Small towns and rural locations typically get slower internet speeds. This comes from internet companies wanting to focus on high population densities. More people equals more profit.
Handling further distances also costs more for your internet provider. If there isn’t enough demand for faster internet, it might not be available where you live.
Alternatively, the available connection types in an area might not meet your speed needs. Some areas still rely on old-fashioned DSL cables, demanding a new upgrade.
Conclusion - how much internet do I need?
Most households can survive fine on 25 Mbps. However, the average household need sits at about 50 Mbps. Your requirements will vary depending on the number of people, devices, and uses your home network needs.