How Much Internet Speed do I REALLY need?

This post was updated in October of 2019

We published this post, How Much Internet Speed do I really Need, almost 2 years ago. Because the Internet of Things keeps growing, it’s time to update the information. The speed you needed 2 years ago, is likely not enough today, and here’s why:

  • more devices

  • ‘smarter’ devices

  • higher quality streaming content

These days, there is lots of talk about Internet speed in the press, and there is considerable interest in building faster networks. Over the next few years, technologies like DSL Bonding and Vectoring and Fiber to the Home can be expected to open up options for faster and faster connections, leaving you with a decision to make – how much Internet speed is enough?

Determining how much Internet speed you need is a straightforward calculation, but it involves many factors. You’ll need to consider the total number of Internet users, the various on-line activities they engage in, the bandwidth necessary for those activities, and how many of those users will be using the Internet simultaneously. The hardest part may be figuring out how much bandwidth each activity really uses. Lastly you’ll want to think about all the other devices in your home that connect to the Internet and how they use those connections, such as TV receivers, game consoles, smart appliances and more.

Before we look at usage information, let’s make sure we’re clear on some terminology:

  • Streaming is a type of download that isn’t saved or stored anywhere on your devices – you view or listen as it is continually streamed from another storage location. Streaming only uses enough bandwidth to actually watch a video in real time – you don’t have to download the whole video all at once.
  • Downloading is the actual transfer of the data from one place to another. When you download a movie or a song, get email, or search and save from the web, you have a copy of the item on your device.  Downloads typically use more bandwidth over a shorter period of time that streaming, because if your Internet speed allows it, you can download faster than you can watch.
  • Uploading is similar to downloading; whatever you send is copied to another device or location.

How You Use Your Internet Speed

The biggest way most homeowners use bandwidth is streaming or downloading entertainment content like movies and music, but there are other key uses as well.

  • A 2-hour movie is about 2 gigabytes of data, and with 4 Mbps service it would take about an hour and 15 minutes to download. By increasing your Internet speed, you simply reduce the amount of time it takes to download the content. That same 2-hour movie would take half the time to download with an 8 Mbps connection.
  • Streaming is a bit different. According to Netflix, for SD streaming, you need .05 Mbps. That is the minimum, though, and the recommended speed is 3.0 Mbps for SD and 5.0 Mbps for HD. If you want to stream in 4K, you will be using at least 16 Mbps.
  • Streaming music is far less taxing on an Internet connection as it requires about .096 Mbps of speed for streaming on your phone and .1670 Mbps to listen on a computer.
  • Regarding e-mail, estimates are that an average email without attachments is about 75 kilobits, which is 0.075 megabits, in size. An e-mail with a file attached increases by the size of the file.
  • Bandwidth usage estimates for online gaming on devices like PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch are between 3-6 Mbps down and .75-1 Mbps up. That is for one player on one device.
  • For a 2-way video call, Skype recommends 1.5 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload, while video calls with multiple people need at least 8 Mbps download.
  • Facebook users average about 0.03 Mbps when browsing the site, but requirements increase significantly when streaming videos from the site.
  • Internet connected Home Security and Automation devices use  more than 1 Mbps
  • Smartphones and tablets, when idle use 1 Mbps each
  • Sitting idly, Alexa uses about 1 Mbps of data, and while streaming music or answering a question, she is using an added .51 Mbps down. When it comes to running smart home devices, Alexa is using about 5 Mbps down for each device and 10 Mbps down for devices with video. The recommended upload speed for these devices is about 3 Mbps because these devices are uploading information to your phones, tablets, or smart assistants. This is generally the same across all virtual assistants and smart home hubs. Smart TV and streaming device bandwidth is contingent on what you are streaming (e.g., live, HD, SD, 4K)
  • Upfront, you should know that your Internet speed for telecommuting is going to vary depending on the apps, devices, and services you are utilizing. As an example, a considerable part of telecommuting is video conferencing, and as we already stated, that takes at least 1.5 Mbps upload and download. Our experts determine that the minimum speed a telecommuter will be using at any time is 2 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload, but we recommend a telecommuter have at least 25/2 Mbps.Online schools require a minimum of 1.5 Mbps upload and download per student. The same can be assumed for kids doing homework online at home.
  • Telemedicine experts have found that a minimum of 15/3 Mbps is required to access telehealth services.

Based on this data, a four-person household’s bandwidth utilization might look something like this:

Parent Streaming Video on Smart TV HD 5.00 Mbps
Shopping Online 0.03 Mbps
Social Media on Phone 1.03 Mbps
Parent Streaming Live TV to A Smart TV 10.00 Mbps
Working from Home 2.00 Mbps
Texting on Smartphone 1 Mbps
Teen Child Streaming Music on Smart Phone 1.96 Mbps
Playing Online Game 3  Mbps
Middle School Age Child Social Media on Smart Phone 1.03 Mbps
Doing Homework Online 1.5 Mbps
Streaming Music on Alexa 1.51 Mbps
Smart Devices 2 Devices 10 Mbps
Idle Tablets 2 devices 2 Mbps
Idle AI Assistants 2 devices 2 Mbps
Total 42.06 Mbps

Remember, this is just one calculation for a hypothetical four-person household, and your own calculation could be very different.  If you’re using satellite or cable TV in conjunction with Internet services, for example, you may be using a lot less bandwidth for viewing online video.

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