Internet Speed: How Fast Is Fast Enough?

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While Internet speeds are already fast, expect them to be even faster in the future with Fiber, Vectoring, and DSL bonding. If you belong to a generation that wasn’t brought up with the Internet, perhaps someone who marvels at the dexterity with which your grandchild uses an iPad, then you might wonder why the need for speed.

Calculating Internet speed is not simply based on figuring out how many megabytes per second you buy from an Internet Service Provider. It’s actually about figuring out how much bandwidth is needed for the number of users and devices accessing the Internet at the same time in a household. Besides your computer devices, desktops and laptops, and your mobile devices, smartphones and tablets, you also have to consider smart appliances, game consoles, and TV receivers.

If you have insufficient bandwidth, then you can spend a lot of time watching a movie buffer, the frustrating process of watching a spinning symbol on your movie as it freezes up because it can’t get enough data packets to run smoothly. “Don’t suffer the buffer,” says Suddenlink, a provider of fast Internet and TV connectivity.

3 Reason You Need a Speedy Internet

Before delving into the question of usage, let’s pause to consider why you need a fast connection:

1. You need a fast connection for streaming.

Streaming is similar to downloading information from the Internet except it’s not saved on a device’s hard drive. Instead, it streams data that you can watch or listen to from a storage location. Bandwidth is used up as you watch the video in real time, and there is no need to store the video on your device if you want to watch parts of it later.

2. You need a fast connection for downloading.

When you download something from the Internet – say, a video, a document, or an email – you copy it onto your device. Although you will need to use more bandwidth when you download compared to streaming, it’s done for a shorter period of time. If you want to access the information again, you pull it up from your device’s hard drive.

3. You need a fast connection for uploading.

Uploading is the opposite of downloading. That’s when you pull up information from your device and send it to be copied to another device or stored in another location. For instance, if you pull up a picture from you hard-drive to your email and send it to someone, you have just uploaded the picture.

While it is possible to stream, download, and upload without a fast connection, it is often slow. Moreover, if you don’t have enough bandwidth because other users are also accessing the Internet or the file size is too large, the streaming, download, or upload may fail.

Average Usage Rates

Internet speed is used up in various ways in a home. Here are 3 common examples:

1. Downloading a movie. You use up bandwidth when accessing entertainment content whether you are streaming or downloading it. With a fast Internet, you reduce the time it takes. For instance, if you want to download a two hour movie, you will need to download 2 GB (gigabytes) of data. At a rate of 4 Mbps (Megabytes per second), it would take you 1.15 hours to download. If, however, your Internet speed was up to 8 Mbps, then you could download it in half the time.

2. Streaming a movie. If you didn’t want to download the movie but stream it, you would need about 4 Mbps to watch it comfortably. Technically, you could watch it at 0.7 Mbps but it would probably buffer quite a bit. Meanwhile, at 5.3 Mbps you would get optimal viewing speed for an HD video.

3. Streaming music. You can get high quality audio at 2 Mbps.

Sending and receiving emails is probably the least resource intensive, requiring only about 0.075 megabits, if there are no attachments. Meanwhile, online gaming is the most resource intensive, requiring about 150 Mb/hour. A video chat on Skype could be done at 0.3 Mbps while surfing Facebook posts would take up 0.03 Mbps.

Besides these individual estimates, you also have to factor in how many people in the house are accessing the Internet and then total up the bandwidth. A household of four people using the Internet for different purposes on different devices could easily take up 12 Mbps.

How to Calculate How Much Speed You Need

While you can always use a ballpark figure to estimate how much Internet speed you need, you can actually get a more accurate figure of how much data you are consuming at what speed by going to a website that allows you to test speed. Your ISP can provide you with the link. For an accurate reading, you should space out your tests and calibrate it with what you’re doing on the Internet. This will allow you to decide whether you are getting enough Internet speed for your needs or you need more.

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