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How Much Internet Speed Do You Really Need?

How Much Internet Speed Do You Really Need?
Sarah Pike
Sarah Pike|April 25, 2016 1:02 PM
digital optical data cable in a data vortex
It used to be fairly simple to figure out how much Internet speed you needed. The choice was a) dial-up, or b) dial-up. Service providers might vary, but the service remained the same. Today, things are more complicated. You can now choose between DSL, cable, and fiber optics — and all the speed tiers offered by each provider.

Read on to pinpoint the bandwidth you need to stay as productive as ever — without breaking the bank.

Know the Demands of Your Activity

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) measure Internet speed in terms of megabits per second, or Mbps, and the difference in Mbps can have a significant impact on the quality of your Internet connection — thus, your productivity. Most providers offer a wide range of speeds, designed to fit the needs of their customers.

The list that follows helps make some sense of common Internet speeds.
  • 5 Mbps or less: Basic Web surfing and email
  • 5–10 Mbps: Web surfing and email, with occasional streaming and online gaming, shared among a few connected devices
  • 10–25 Mbps: Moderate high-definition (HD) streaming, online gaming, and downloading files, shared among several connected devices
  • 25–40 Mbps: Heavy HD streaming, online gaming, and downloading, with many connected devices
  • 40+ Mbps: Hardcore streaming, online gaming, and downloading, with a large number of connected devices
You may notice a problem with the list right away. How many connected devices is a "few"? What's the difference between moderate and hardcore streaming? And how are you supposed to know unless your ISP tells you? After all, your definition of a "few" and "moderate" most likely differs from theirs. Don't fret — continue reading.

Account for Variables

To make things more complicated, there are other variables involved when it comes to nailing down your Internet speed. Some of them you can control — others you can't.

For example, if you live alone, it's easy to control the number of connected devices in the home. However, if you have a renegade teenager or a mysterious roommate who disappears into their room for days at a time, you may not know how many devices are connected at a time. What is your teenager doing on their smartphone? Is your roommate hibernating or staying up all night playing video games?

There other variables, too: distance, Wi-Fi strength, time of day, and general congestion. You've seen some of them in action. Think about what happens to the Wi-Fi at 8 p.m. on a Thursday. If the ISP doesn't disperse traffic to several servers, everyone experiences latency issues. Netflix comes to a standstill. Emails wait in outbox limbo.

Use an Internet Speed Calculator

Obviously, the more variables in play, the more complicated choosing an Internet speed gets. You can try to figure out the answer manually, but it's painstaking and time-consuming work.

The better option is to use an Internet speed calculator. Answer a few questions about your home and general online activities, and you're done.

After using the simple Internet speed calculator, you'll know precisely how much Internet speed you need, and that makes you the best kind of consumer: an informed one.

When you're ready to take the plunge and sign up with an Internet provider and the inevitable upsell comes, you'll be ready for that, too since you now know the exact speed you need. You know what's needed to keep everyone in the home happy and productive. And that's all you really need.
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How Much Internet Speed Do You Really Need?