How Much Internet Speed Do You Need?

One way internet providers make money is to sell you more internet bandwidth than you genuinely need. Your ISP will attempt to sell you a gigabit worth of bandwidth on the premise that bigger is always better. While it’s nice to have a blazing fast gigabit connection, some that have it may never actually use it.

A 2017 report from Akamai, showed the average internet connection was just 18.7 Mbps. Contrary to what many believe, that is more than enough bandwidth to stream an HDR video in 4K resolution. Consider that Verizon Fios sell it’s 100 Mbps service $40 cheaper per month than it’s Gigabit Connection and Comcast’s Xfinity sell bandwidth at a similar discount. Not buying the fastest internet connection is a great way to save money when you cut the cord.

In this article, I will demonstrate why a download speed of 50 Mbps is more than enough for the vast majority of households, even cord cutters.

What is a Good Internet Speed

The internet speed required will vary from household to household based on the online activities performed by members of a given household.

Here are some rough estimates of the bandwidth you need for everyday activities.

  • 1Mbps – Web Surfing, Podcast Listening, Social Media, or most music streaming.
  • 2-3Mbps – Watching a standard definition video listing to lossless music
  • 5Mbps – Watching an HD video
  • 16 Mbps – Watching a 4K Video*

Keep in mind that these speeds are per activity. So if you see your household watching two 4K movies simultaneously while you have 5 devices surfing the web, you’ll need at least 37 Mbps.

Also note, if you have an online gamer in your household, you’ll need around 5-10 Mbps to keep them happy while playing. However, at that speed, downloading a game can take quite a bit of time depending on the size of the game.

Download vs Upload Speed

When your ISP advertises internet speed, you will generally see two numbers like 50/50 or 100/3. The first number is the available speed for downloading, while the second is the speed available for uploading. Most households will only be concerned with the first number or download speed. However, those that frequently upload data to the internet may want to be aware of the upload speed of their internet connection.

So How Much Bandwidth Do You Need

I understand between mobile devices, laptops, and other smart devices; a household can have dozens of connections. A good way to figure out how much download bandwidth you need is to assign a value to each device based its primary function.

For example, the most bandwidth intensive task an Amazon Alexa or Google home device will do is stream music. Therefore, assign a value of 1 Mbps to each. Most smart devices without a screen will need 1 Mbps or less. Most will need a small fraction of that value, but rounding up will build in a bandwidth cushion.

Then look at your other more interactive devices. Smart TV’s like a Roku TV that streams 4K video in will need around 16 Mbps. Laptops and PC’s will likely need 5 Mbps each for HD video. Now, from the list of interactive devices figure out how many could possibly run simultaneously based on the number of family members in the house.

For example, let’s say a family of 4 lives in a house with two 4K HD smart TV’s, 2 laptops and 4 smartphones. The most video streams that would run simultaneously is one for each family member. So, we have 32 Mbps for the 2 TV’s and then two 5 Mbps for a high definition video on each laptop. We then have a and 4 smartphones left. Let’s assume family members multitask while watching a video. So we assign another 1 Mbps for web surfing on each device. Then suppose we have 4 other smart devices in the house (like Amazon echos.)

50 Mbps is All Most Household Need

That would give us 42 Mbps for the four streaming videos, 4 Mbps for web surfing while watching, and 4 Mbps for the other smart devices. The grand total is 50 Mbps for a fairly high level of online household activity.

While there are rare activities like torrenting, 4K online gaming, and downloading games and applications from the internet, generally a 50 Mbps download connection will be more than enough for the average U.S. household regardless of what your ISP tries to tell you.

Looking For an Internet Provider?

To see which providers are available in your area, you can use a search tool we created to find Internet Providers in your zip code.

Our results show providers with internet-only plans that offer a download speed of at least 25 Mbps or more in your area. It’s important to know which Internet options are available to you to keep your costs low. Even if there is only one provider in your area, there are ways to keep your internet costs affordable.

*Netflix claims we need 25 Mbps for UHD 4K. However, they also quote that 4K UHD required 7 GB per hour. 7 GB per hour translates to 15.93 Mbps, which is why we used 16 Mbps for UHD.

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Dennis Restauro: @GroundedReason Dennis is the editor in chief at Grounded Reason. Before writing about using technology to save you money he spent 20 years working in the tech sector as a sysadmin, an analyst, and an enterprise architect.