What's a Good Internet Speed?
“Hold on, let me Google that…” You type your question into the search engine box and press “Search”. One of two things happen – the results instantly pop onto your screen giving you instant satisfaction, or the download bar changes color ever so slowly, forcing you to wait.
Most everyone is connected to the internet in some form or another. It’s a big part of our lives from making phone calls to googling directions to streaming a movie on Netflix. We often take this connection for granted - unless it’s not there. Depending on where you live, internet speeds and availability will vary greatly. Just on my cell phone, you may experience anywhere from 4G to 1X depending on the location, what road I’m travelling down or the time of day.
With some exceptions, if you live in an urban area, the infrastructure is built so there are few interruptions. If you’re in a rural area, you may have to search for a provider to give you just basic services. The most commonly asked question on social media in my rural area is “who do you use for internet service?” Everyone wants higher speeds, faster downloads and uninterrupted connections.
There are many options for internet:
The local phone provider usually offers a data package.
A cable provider such as Comcast or Dish can provide services.
A cell service provider, such as Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint can be available depending on where you live and how close you are to a cell tower they own or lease. Sometimes they have boosters as well to add more speed.
satellite provider is an option for some.
Numerous independent telecommunications companies have their own localized service.
How Are You Using the Internet?
As you shop around for a service provider, there are a few things to take into consideration. The most important question being: what do you use your internet for?
Do you send an occasional email and pictures to your Aunt in Wisconsin?
Do you have kids needing to do homework?
Do you love to watch YouTube videos and argue on Facebook?
Do you work from home and need to video conference with people on the other side of the globe?
Do you enjoy high-tech interactive online games, streaming movies, or watching live sporting events?
Are you wanting to invest in the new generation of smart appliances?
Do you have more than one person in your household using connected devices?
Words to Know
Before we continue, it’s important to know the terminology to assist in your decision-making process. Data connection speeds are measured in Megabits per second (or Mbps). The higher the number of Mbps, the faster your app or movie will download, the faster your files will upload and the more seamless your internet experience will be. The highest internet speeds available to a few are 2000 Mbps or 2 Gigabits per Second (Gbps).
Downloading is the time it takes for your content to load onto your screen to be viewable or usable. Uploading is the time it takes for you to send content to your destination. Two other terms you might see are “ping” and “latency”.
Ping is the method to determine the time it takes to reach and talk to the destination. Latency is the time is takes data to get through the network. These last two terms are important in higher end gaming applications.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommends a minimum 12-25 Mbps for families with multiple internet users. However, your speed depends on which applications your family uses.
How Much Internet Does Each Application Use?
Each application has recommended speeds for optimal use:
Check email - 1-5 Mbps
Stream HD content - 15-25 Mbps
Online games - 40-100 Mbps. Check your game’s specifications.
Netflix - 5.0 Mbps or faster for HD movies, 25 Mbps for 4K content
YouTube - 3 Mbps or higher
Working from home - email and basic programs 3-4 Mbps; Skype group video calls 10+ Mbps; large file transfer 40+ Mbps
3G, 4G, 5G
Depending on how close you are to a cell phone tower, your phone will show 3G or 4G. What’s the difference in speed? 3G may have a speed of around 3-4 Mbps while 4G will be around 9.5 Mbps. If you have 4G, you have a maximum possible speed of 60 Mbps. The lower speeds will have longer download times and may even time out.
5G is the next generation of internet involving more towers in close proximity to each other and infinitely higher speeds. This will be available soon in larger urban areas. It’ll lead to more smart appliances, driverless cars and infinite other possibilities for connected technology.
There are tools out there to calculate your bandwidth usage. Let’s say you have 3 internet users in your family. Each of you have smart phones, watch Netflix, play video games online and one of you works from home periodically. You’ll want at least 30 Mbps.
Keeping everything we’ve mentioned in mind, calculate the speed you think you need (and add a little bit more). Research the pros and cons of each type of service available in your area. If you’re an online gamer or have special internet needs, you’ll have other considerations besides speed. Latency, ping, reliability and peak times all factor in your decision. For example, satellite service may be fast, but it has higher latency, so the instant decisions you want may be delayed.
Finally, consider your future plans. New technologies come out every day and you’ll want your service to cover that new high def flat screen or smart appliance on your wish list. You want to connect seamlessly and not have to think about that spinning little wheel of delay.