Let’s just say it how it is: slow internet is the worst.
Slow internet is the shower-equivalent to everyone using up all the hot water, the real-life equivalent of standing in line at the DMV. It’s a time portal back to dial-up. One second you’re sitting on the couch, hoping to unwind. The next, the “pshhhhkkkkkrrrrrrrrkakinngchchchchch” ghost-of-internet-past plays faintly in the background, and it’s game over (literally).
Already over it? Same.
You deserve fast internet, but what does that mean? How is internet speed measured? What is a good internet speed for your household or business? And how much internet speed do you need to banish buffering for good?
Read on for a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about internet speed.
How is Internet Speed Measured?
Internet speed is measured in Mbps. What is Mbps, you ask? It’s a unit of measurement that stands for megabits per second, and it calculates how quickly packets of data transmit from the web to your internet-enabled device. The higher the Mbps, the faster the internet.
Bandwidth is another important factor, as it determines the maximum amount of data that can transfer over one network at any given time. If Mbps is your vehicle that travels at a certain speed, bandwidth is your freeway. Just as too many cars on the freeway result in a traffic jam, too many devices on the same internet connection lead to slower speeds.
Upload vs. Download Speeds
Upload speed refers to how quickly you send data from your device to another server (e.g., when you send emails, live video chat, or play live video games). Download speed refers to how quickly another server sends data to you (e.g., when you stream Netflix, listen to Spotify, or download large files).
Upload and download speeds are both measured in Mbps—but they are not always equal. Many ISPs (internet service providers) offer fast download speeds and slow upload speeds. If you make a lot of video calls or frequently game online, upload speeds are especially important.
Good speeds are relative to what kinds of online activities you’re doing. Here’s a breakdown of the lowest recommended speeds for various activities:
What Is a Good internet Download Speed?
- Browsing and Email: 1 Mbps
- Casual Online Gaming: 5 Mbps
- Streaming Video: 10 Mbps
- Streaming Music: 1 Mpbs
What is a Good internet Upload Speed?
- Browsing and Email: 3-4 Mbps
- Causal Online Gaming: 1 Mbps
- Streaming Video: 0.5 Mbps
- Streaming Music: 0.25 Mpbs
When you add more users and devices per household, you need more speed to avoid using up all your bandwidth. Before you choose an ISP, keep an eye on both upload and download speeds and see if they’re both fast enough for your needs.
Symmetrical Bandwidth: Why it’s Important
When upload and download speeds are equal (e.g., 100 Mbps each), it’s called symmetrical bandwidth. Asymmetrical bandwidth (e.g., 100 Mbps download speeds and 10 Mbps upload speeds) is more common, but not nearly as fast or ideal.
If you’re a serious gamer, symmetrical bandwidth is key. When you have equal upload and download speeds, you deal with less buffering, less lag time, and lower ping. Ping is your server’s reaction time—how long it takes to transmit data from your player to the server and back again. The lower the ping, the faster the reaction time.
Fiber internet is more commonly symmetrical, whereas cable is often asymmetrical. When in doubt, check the upload speed—many providers tout the download speeds first.
Fiber vs. Non-Fiber Internet
There are multiple forms of internet service: fiber, cable, DSL, and satellite. Fiber internet is known for speed—it transmits data via fiber-optic cables (ultra-thin glass cables that transmit light signals). It’s not as fast as the speed of light, but it runs significantly faster than its counterparts (sometimes as much as 1,000 Mbps for both upload and download speeds).
Cable internet works much the same as cable television, with a built-in cable infrastructure that sends data from a coaxial cable straight to your home. Although most cable internet is considered fast, it often slows down during peak times (since it shares bandwidth with your neighbors who use the same cable line).
DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, uses a phone wall jack to connect to the internet. The biggest con is that it’s sensitive to distance—the farther you are from what you’re connecting to, the slower your signal.
Satellite internet is widely available to most users, since you can install a satellite dish anywhere with access to the southern sky (cable and fiber are only available in select areas). Satellite internet is not recommended for serious gamers, but works well for most day-to-day internet activities. Since satellite internet relies on a dish to transmit radio waves, it is occasionally affected by wind, clouds, and bad weather.
How Much Internet Speed Do I Need?
How much internet speed you need varies based on what activities you use the internet for, and how many devices are connected at a time. According to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission):
- Basic service: 3 to 8 Mbps
- Medium service: 12 to 25 Mbps
- Advanced service: over 25 Mbps
Basic service involves one or two users and devices at the most and allows for light functions, including browsing, social media, email, and internet radio. Medium service is built for two or three users and devices and includes all light functions, plus one high-demand application (such as “streaming HD video, multiparty video conferencing, online gaming, and telecommuting”).
Advanced service is best for four or more users and devices at a time, and includes all basic functions, plus it allows for more than one high-demand function running at once.
What is the Average Internet Speed in the US?
As a general rule, a good internet speed for most households is 25 Mbps and up. According to a recent global internet speed test, the average US household internet speed is 94 Mbps —“twice as fast as the global average speed of 46 Mbps”.
Which Internet Speeds are Best for Each Activity?
Recall that higher Mbps = faster internet. Downloading large files and streaming HD video uses much more bandwidth than general email browsing or streaming music. Here’s a breakdown of recommended internet speeds for various household usage:
|Household Activity||Recommended Speed|
|Email + Social Media|
(Facebook, Instagram, Gmail)
|Large File Downloads|
(HD movies, Torrents)
|5 Mbps (Slow)–50 Mbps (Fast)
|0.5 (Standard)–1.5 Mbps (HD)
(PS4, Xbox, PC)
(Hulu, Netflix, Youtube)
|1.5 Mbps (Low-definition)
3 Mbps (Standard)
5 Mbps (HD - 1080p)
25 Mbps (Ultra HD - 4k)
Business internet is a whole other world of its own. How much speed you need will depend on how many employees you have and what kinds of online activities they perform.
|Business Activity||Recommended Speed|
|Email + Browsing|
(Gmail, Outlook, E-commerce)
|Large File Downloads|
(Cloud Sharing, Torrents)
|5 Mbps (Slow)–50 Mbps (Fast)|
(Zoom, Skype, Webinars, Cisco)
|0.5 (Standard)–3 Mbps (HD)
|Audio Streaming + Music |
(Spotify, VoIP Phones)
|0.1–0.3 Mbps (ping rate)
|Video Streaming||0.5 Mbps (Low-definition)
3 Mbps (Standard)
5 Mbps (HD - 1080p)
25 Mbps (Ultra HD - 4k)
Since not every household and business use the internet in the same way, speeds vary. Use the internet-speed tools below to determine exactly what speed is best for you.
How Can I Check My Internet Speed?
Not sure what internet speed is best for your business or household? The team at HighSpeedInternet.com built out a comprehensive tool to weigh different factors and determine what speed you actually need to function.
You’ll answer a series of questions and input the tasks that members of your household or business perform online, including how often they make internet phone calls, stream music and video, play online games, and download large files.
Once you answer all questions, the tool will reveal your minimum recommended speed based on your location.
How Can I Make My Home Internet Faster?
Even if you have the optimal speed for your household and business, you might still experience issues with slow internet. Factors such as wireless router placement, an unsecured network, auto-updating programs, and malware can all contribute to slow internet.
Read this article for five tips on how to optimize your internet speed, and kiss the rainbow spinning wheel of death goodbye forever.