The more bandwidth you have, the better your internet experience will be. You’ll be able to watch higher quality video, connect multiple devices simultaneously, and download things faster. But how much do you need?
Bandwidth vs. Speed
Though used interchangeably, bandwidth and speed aren’t technically the same thing. Bandwidth is more like capacity. Imagine a pipe. The larger the diameter of your pipe, the more water you could put through it. That’s bandwidth. Speed, in this analogy, is how fast you actually put water through it.
That said, in most cases you can think of bandwidth the same as speed—but remember, they aren’t always the same. Actual speed almost never reaches total bandwidth.
How Much Bandwidth Do You Currently Have?
You’ll have to check on your plan with your internet provider to see how much bandwidth you have. However, you can check on your speed right now using an online test such as this one. Your speed will be measured in Mbps, or megabytes per second. Download speed matters the most, but upload speed matters sometimes. For example, when you’re streaming video, you’ll only be concerned with your download speed. But when you’re gaming, you will want to know both speeds.
What Quality of Video Do You Stream?
Streaming video at standard definition requires a minimum of 1.5 Mbps, but it’s recommended you have at least 3 Mbps. Streaming HD video requires a minimum of 5 Mbps, but 8 Mbps is recommended. If you’re streaming in 4k, you need 25 Mbps. Keep in mind, internet speed can vary from second to second, so it’s better to get more than the minimum.
How Many Devices Are Connected to the Internet?
You probably have phones, tablets, computers, TVs, and game consoles that connect to the internet. You may also have smart devices like doorbells, security cameras, appliances, digital assistants, thermostats, and more. Even though all these devices aren’t necessarily always using your bandwidth, they all regularly connect to do their jobs or to update. For example, if you’re watching 4k TV and think you’re fine because you have 25 Mbps to work with, you may be disappointed when your phone starts updating or your security camera starts recording and uploading video, as they’ll both be using some of that bandwidth.
Do You Game?
Most console manufacturers recommend a minimum of 3 Mbps to play online games—that’s really the bare minimum. That just gets you in the room. Players with faster connections will have a huge advantage. To be competitive, most players have at least 25 Mbps worth of bandwidth.
How Many People Are Using the Internet at the Same Time?
Keep in mind that bandwidth requirements for video streaming are for each person streaming video. If you’re watching something on 4k in the living room and your kids are in the basement each streaming YouTube on their phones, 25 Mbps won’t be enough. For example, if you have one user streaming 4k video and two others each streaming something in HD, you’d need 41 Mbps.
How Much Do You Download?
Large files for work, big software updates, games on your PC—all these things add up quickly.
The Big Takeaway
50 Mbps is a good starting point. If you’re the only one in your household and you don’t use the internet very much, you may be able to get away with a bit less. Add more for each internet user and device. Aim for 150 Mbps if you have a four-person household, you run more than a dozen devices, and you want instant downloads. If your household is even larger, you’re doing a lot of internet heavy activities such as streaming your video games on Twitch, or you do things like take video calls throughout the day while others are using the internet and can’t suffer a dip in quality, get as big a bandwidth plan as you can afford.