How Much Internet Speed Do You Need?
We all want fast internet service—but how fast? That’s an important question for making sure you’re getting the right internet plan and not paying for a higher tier of service than you need. It all depends on what your family does online, and whether they do it at the same time. This calculator can help.
Understanding internet speed. The term refers to how fast data—say, a Netflix movie—travels into your home. Because the “bits” of data are very small, speed is usually measured in megabits, or thousands of bits, per second (Mbps). Some superfast fiber services can send data at a gigabit per second (Gbps).
Almost any internet speed is fine for receiving a text-only email, and you may need only 1 Mbps to listen to a Spotify song. However, you need around 25 Mbps to watch a 4K Netflix movie in HDR at its highest quality.
Bandwidth is closely related to speed; it reflects the amount of speed available for you to use, because your whole household will share whatever internet speed you have. So if two TVs in your home are each streaming 4K movies, you need at least 50 Mbps of bandwidth.
The calculator above can help you estimate your bandwidth needs, but note that the speeds it uses are estimates based on a range of industry sources. In practice, speeds vary depending on the source of the data, and other factors.
More devices than you might think. It’s easy to underestimate how many devices are using your home internet connection. Many of us switch from cellular service to home WiFi when using our smartphones in the house. You may also have multiple laptops, smart TVs, smart speakers, smart thermostats, video doorbells, gaming consoles, and tablets. All those devices share the same bandwidth when they connect to the internet.
Upload speeds matter, too. Until recently, most consumers only had to worry about download speeds, or how fast videos and web pages arrived in their homes. Recently, upload speeds have become more important because they affect video calls, including both teleconferencing calls with work and video chats with family and friends.
Most internet plans from cable and DSL providers offer upload speeds that are only a fraction of their download speeds; a 25 Mbps plan might have an upload speed of just 5 Mbps. Even if you have no problem watching the new season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” your Zoom calls with the office could be sluggish because of the video you’re uploading for your portion of the call. (Fiber services from companies such as Google and Verizon are “synchronous,” meaning they provide comparable download and upload speeds.)
Upload speeds also matter if you post a lot of YouTube or TikTok videos. With slower speeds, your videos will go through, but it will take longer.
Which plan should you get? ISPs generally offer several plans, each promising a different range of speeds—the faster the connection, the more you pay. The trick is finding a plan that supplies the speeds you need without paying more than necessary.
Our broadband calculator might not include every factor that matters to you. For instance, you don’t need that much bandwidth to play most video games, but avid gamers might want a faster internet connection for downloading new games.
If you’re thinking of upgrading to a faster plan, you should first test your connection at a site like M-Lab or Speedtest. If possible, start by running a test on a computer that’s plugged into your router with an ethernet cord. The numbers will vary a bit each time, but if the results are consistently slower than your ISP promises, call the company. Then do the same test wirelessly, over WiFi, in different spots around the house. If it’s only the WiFi speeds that are slow, you may need to move or replace your router.
Consumer Reports is working on making internet service more affordable and widely accessible. To learn more, check out our Broadband Together project.