How to Stream Smarter—Get a Handle on Your Internet Speed

Cassie Tolhurst

Do you know how fast your Internet is?

It turns out, a lot of people don’t.

In fact, 42 percent of people surveyed by All Home Connections admitted they have no idea what they’re really paying for when it comes to speed and bandwidth. But taking the time to understand the ins and outs of your Internet plan has its benefits—including optimized streaming.

Aside from general web use like email and messaging, streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, Spotify) ranked as 63 percent of people’s top reason for using the Internet. The streaming quality you get depends on a few factors: Internet speed, number of users, and the type of connection you have.

So, what’s really happening when you’re streaming?

Streaming allows you to watch or listen to a file while it’s in the process of downloading. Rather than waiting for the full file to download, streaming sends a steady flow of data so you can start watching or listening right away.

While streaming is great for creating a seamless online experience, it does require a certain amount of speed and bandwidth. Bandwidth—a.k.a. how many bytes of information you can receive at once—is measured in kilobits (Kbps) or megabits (Mbps) per second. The faster your speed—and the more bandwidth you have—the faster things will load and the less time you’ll spend waiting for your media to buffer.

The quality and efficiency of streaming also depends on what you’re streaming, when you’re streaming, and where you’re streaming from. A variety of things can slow you down:

  • Number of users and devices on your Internet connection
  • Large files (i.e. HD movies)
  • Your distance from your Wi-Fi router
  • Streaming during Internet Rush Hour (roughly 7–11 PM)

Internet speeds can only be stretched so far, so if you’re having problems, see if any of these factors could be the culprit.

Do you have enough speed for your favorite services?

Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora rank as the most popular music subscription services in the U.S., while the most watched on-demand video subscriptions are Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. Music subscription services don’t require much speed—in most cases only a few Kbps—but still, these can add up, depending on how many people are streaming or using your Internet connection at once.

  • Netflix recommends anywhere from 2.5–25 Mbps depending on the quality of video
  • Amazon Prime Video requires as little as 900 Kbps and up to 3.5 Mbps for HD
  • Hulu requires a minimum of 1.5 Mbps

Check with your Internet Service Provider to find out how much speed your plan gives you—then verify your connection is up to par by running a quick speed test.

Do you have the best kind of Internet for your home?

Another factor to take into account, is the type of Internet you have. A large percentage of survey participants—49, to be exact—have cable Internet while 27 percent have DSL, and 13 percent have fiber. What’s the difference? DSL is generally the least expensive of the three, but also slower. It’s a great option for people who don’t need a lot of speed and just use the Internet for basic web surfing. Cable Internet offers faster speeds, and fiber even faster speeds than cable. But, with great speed comes great financial responsibility.

So how do you figure out how much speed you need and which kind of Internet is best for you? Try this to help you determine what sort of connection is best for your home and how much speed you’ll want for optimal streaming.

*Data from this article was collected by All Home Connections during a survey of business and residential Internet use ran August 2016.