How to Decide what Internet Speed You Need

Everyone wants a fast and reliable internet. But finding an internet service provider that offers fast speeds along with a great service can be a challenge. The problem is you have to pay for faster speeds. So, if you’re looking for a good ISP you’ll need to find a sweet spot between cost and speed.

Here’s how we can help:

Understanding bandwidth

Bandwidth is the maximum rate at which you download data from the internet to your computer. The larger it is, the more data you can receive in a given time. Bandwidth is measured in bits per second. That translates to one byte equals 8 bits, so 1 megabyte (MB) equals 8 megabits. Therefore, if you have a 1 megabit-per-second (Mbps) connection, a 1MB file will take eight seconds to download. With a 1 Mbps connection, you’ll be able to download one MP3 file, measuring about 6MB, in about 48 seconds. A 5 gigabyte, or 5,000MB, a movie will take about 11 hours to download to your system.

How Much Bandwidth do You Really Need?

Your bandwidth is shared among all devices using your connection. How much bandwidth you need depends on how you use the internet and how it’s shared among all devices using your connection. If one member of your family is streaming a TV show or a movie, another is downloading a video game and another is refreshing their social media status on their laptop or phone, you will need enough bandwidth to serve everyone. Video streaming takes up the most bandwidth. So, if all the members of your family are streaming simultaneously you’ll have to increase your bandwidth to a faster package. For Netflix, for instance, you’ll need a minimum 3 Mbps connection for one standard-quality stream and 5 Mbps if you’re streaming a high-definition movie. Two HD quality streams running at the same time would need around 10 Mbps, and so on. Playing online video games doesn’t need much bandwidth if you just want to play, but downloading it or any other huge file will and does take up a lot of bandwidth.

People who download and share files frequently will want a higher bandwidth. The way around that is to schedule downloads when network traffic is low so you have more bandwidth, mostly late at night. On the other hand, if you use the internet just for general web surfing, emailing and social media then 1 Mbps would be more than enough for you. It also depends on individual usage. For instance, with multiple users on the same connection, you’ll need extra bandwidth to accommodate your activities.

Also, the speed you’ve paid for isn’t always the speed your internet service provider will provide. But if you talk to your ISP chances are you can get the speed you signed up for. Your bandwidth can also be affected by others using your network, your own hardware and your provider’s infrastructure quality, among other factors. Sometimes your speed will go up when network demand is low.

Upload Speeds Matter Too

While everyone mostly talks about download speeds, upload speed is equally important. ISPs usually list upload speeds after download speed and it will often be dramatically slower than your download bandwidth, the speed with which you can download a file, video or photo from a remote server in an equivalent package or plan. ISPs mostly promote their high download speeds.

The other is the upload speed, the speed at which you can upload a file, video or pics to a remote server. It can make a difference. Syncing files to your cloud account, uploading photos to Facebook, putting up videos on YouTube or having a Skype video call, can all affect your upload speed. So, don’t forget to check the upload speed when signing up with an ISP. It’s also a good idea to read the fine print to compare plans between different ISPs.

Finding the Bandwidth You Want

If you’re a city dweller, you’ll likely find a fast and reliable internet connection from a cable company. But if you decide to opt for a phone company’s digital subscriber line, or DSL service, you’ll be opting for slightly slower speeds. On the other hand, you can go for a fiber optics connection, which is the fastest way of delivering internet service. But you’ll have to check with your ISP if they provide the service in your area or city. If you live in a rural or urban area, chances are that you probably have a satellite connection. But the only problem is these connections can be slower and not without issues.

Here’s something to go by. According to a report from Akamai, a major internet security and content delivery company, all 50 states including Washington, D.C., get an average speed of 10 Mbps or more with Idaho being the slowest at 10.2 Mbps. Washington, D.C., clocks in with the fastest average speed of 24.3 Mbps.

Types of Service

You also need to consider what type of service is available in your area. There are four basic types of internet services that will dictate what kind of bandwidth you’re getting. The technology they use can determine the amount of speed you receive in your household.

Cable and fiber connections are the fastest while satellite and DSL tend to be much slower. With a satellite connection signals bounce off a satellite to your home and the transmission of data can be affected dramatically by weather and other users. While most homes in rural areas have DSL, which runs on a phone line, the technology it uses restricts how much data can be transmitted at the same time.

Cable too can be sluggish depending on the amount of usage as it routes data through your neighborhood hub. Fiber optics is fast but isn’t available in all U.S. cities. This type of connection delivers high-speeds efficiently with 1 Gigabyte or more (1,000 Mbps).

Factors that Determine the Speed You Need

You can determine the internet speed you’re getting. There are tools and tests widely available online to understand how much speed your household is currently receiving. Some tools will assess your current household internet usage based on a questionnaire to suggest speeds for you. It’ll give you an idea of what you can pay for and the speed your ISP is delivering. In reality, you should only pay for speeds you actually use. For instance, Cox Internet price offers fast, secure and reliable connectivity.

Here are just a few factors these tools use to assess your ideal speed:

Number of Users

The No. 1 factor is the users in your household who might be utilizing the internet on different devices all at one time. This will determine the internet speeds you’ll need at peak usage. It will also gauge the most usage determining the maximum speeds you might need without any lag or interruptions.

Types of Activities

Streaming HD video certainly takes up a lot of speed. The speed tool you use might take into account how you use your internet to allow for additional bandwidth for a better online experience.

Patterns of Use

You and the wife are watching a movie in HD on Netflix and the kids are busy gaming and chatting online. These patterns of use help understand your peak usage to select a provider and a package whose speeds will support all those activities simultaneously and won’t interfere with your online activities. According to a recent Doloitte Digital Democracy Survey, over 90% of people multi-task while doing things like watching TV or streaming video. So your pattern of usage is an important factor in determining speed.


Today’s average household has several wireless devices running all at the same time on the internet. That includes smart appliances too. The speed tool asks you to consider all the items in your home that might be tapping into your bandwidth such as laptops, TVs, smartphones and tablets.

How Much Speed Do I Need for My Business?

The speed tool is also ideal for business owners too. They need to assess how much speed they might need to accommodate their employees and the various online activities conducted daily. The following factors will be taken into consideration.

Factors that Determine Business Internet Speed

Number of Users or Employees

You must determine how many of your employees might be conducting activities online at once to understand your peak internet requirements.

Types of Activities

Other activities that might affect your bandwidth in the workplace could be video calls, downloading large files, emailing, video streaming, streaming audio or VoIP

Position for Growth

Your internet usage at the office isn’t the only aspect you need to consider, you also need to grow your business. In addition to expanding your business, you’ll add employees and will require more bandwidth for additional online activities. As a general rule, internet usage doubles every 12 months, according to Nielsen’s Law of Internet Bandwidth.

Reliability is another major factor when looking for an ISP. This is especially essential if it’s a business delivering services online or utilizes web-based platforms consistently. Check the reputation of the provider before signing up for a package.

What the Speed Test will tell You about Your Business Internet Needs

The business speed test tool will track your real internet usage at your work place for a couple of days. It will determine your online platforms and assess your daily activities as well as the number of employees using the internet simultaneously on a typical business day. The speed tool will assess your business internet usage based on the following:

  • How many employees are on the internet at the same time during peak hours?
  • How many employees are streaming videos all at once?
  • How many employees are multi-tasking browsing online or checking email at the same time?
  • How many employees are video conferencing or on Skype calls?
  • How many employees are streaming audio, listening to music or using VoIP?

The speed tool, with this data, will determine the optimal speed for you along with recommendations for providers in your area that offer speeds your business needs. You’ll be required to enter your zip code for the tool to provide the most optimal answer based on your business online usage, the ISPs and speeds available in your area.

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