At a glance
Picking a new internet plan can be a pain. You want to make sure you have enough internet speed to avoid buffering and disjointed Zoom meetings, but going with the fastest speed might be a waste of money.
As a general baseline, you want at least 10 Mbps of download speed per person who could be online at the same time, but the actual amount of internet speed you need depends on two main factors:
- How many devices are connected to the internet
- How you use the internet
The more devices on your internet connection, the more speed you need to keep everything running smoothly. And some online activities—like streaming Netflix in HD or hopping into a Zoom conference—require more internet speed than basic activities like checking email.
How do I choose an internet speed?
This is going to be a bit of (easy) math. But don’t worry—you need to do this only once to know how much internet speed you need.
What you need to do is figure out the number of devices that will potentially be online at the same time, along with the amount of bandwidth required to keep each connection running smoothly.
Here’s a chart to help you figure out how many Mbps each of your internet connections might need. Or you can skip the math and get a personalized internet speed recommendation.
Bandwidth requirements for common online activities
|Activity||Recommended bandwidth per instance|
|Web browsing||3–5 Mbps|
|Music streaming||1–2 Mbps|
|Checking social media||3–10 Mbps|
|Video streaming||5–25 Mbps|
|Video conferencing||5–10 Mbps|
|Online gaming||5–25 Mbps|
|Smart home devices||1-10 Mbps|
|Recommended bandwidth per instance|
The amount of bandwidth any online activity can use depends on a few factors. Checking social media could mean a brief look on Twitter, or it could be endlessly scrolling through TikTok (which would use more bandwidth).
Likewise, video streaming resolution affects how much internet speed you use—standard definition Netflix has a minimum requirement of only 3 Mbps, but streaming in 4K could easily use up 25 Mbps.
If you have multiple connections going at the same time, you also want to make sure you have enough bandwidth for every connection to run smoothly simultaneously—otherwise your network will slow down when multiple people get online.
For example, if you’d potentially have a smart TV streaming Netflix, a smartphone scrolling through Instagram, and a laptop looking up the best takeout in your area at the same time, 20–30 Mbps would work. That’s 5–25 Mbps for streaming, 3–10 Mbps for Instagram, and 3–5 Mbps for web browsing.
Giving yourself a bit of wiggle room isn’t going to hurt either. In our opinion, it’s better to have a little extra bandwidth than to get stuck with a little less than you regularly need.
See every internet plan in your area to find the speeds you need.
Common internet speeds
Even though every internet provider has its own range of internet plans, there are a few common speed ranges you might find as you shop.
25 Mbps—Good for about 2 people and up to 5 devices, depending on what you do with them. With 25 Mbps, you could stream one show in 4K if there are no other internet connections.
50 Mbps—Good for 2–4 people and 5–7 devices. A speed of 50 Mbps can handle 2–3 video streams plus some extra online activity.
100 Mbps—Good for 4–6 people and up to 10 devices. Most families would be amply covered with a 100 Mbps internet connection.
200–500 Mbps—Good for large families with several connected devices where everyone wants to watch a different movie or show at the same time.
1,000 Mbps—This is usually the fastest residential internet speed available, and it’s good if you rely on incredibly fast internet speeds for online gaming, your job, or simply because you want the best of the best.
Upload speed and download speed
For most of this article, we’ve been talking about download speeds—the speeds that determine how fast you can receive data from the internet. But upload speed—the speed at which you can send data to the internet—is also important.
Many internet providers advertise download speeds but keep upload speeds a little more hidden because they can be much slower than download speeds. That’s fine for most because you don’t normally send as much to the internet as you get from it.
But for people who upload a lot of files, photos, or videos for work—or households where there are multiple video calls going on at the same time—you’ll want to make sure your upload bandwidth can keep up.
Internet providers usually give you 10% of your download speed as your upload speed. So if your internet plan says 100 Mbps, your upload speed would be 10 Mbps.
The exception to these asymmetrical speeds is usually fiber internet, which tends to be more generous with upload bandwidth than other types of internet. With a fiber internet connection, you would usually get equally fast upload and download speeds.
How internet type affects speeds
Different types of internet connections can affect your speeds in a few different ways, mainly in speed or distance limitations, network congestion, or high latency. Let’s go through the main types of internet and how they affect speeds:
Fiber internet is the fastest type of internet currently available. Notably, fiber internet connections give you much faster upload speeds than other types of internet. Examples of fiber internet providers are Google Fiber, Verizon Fios, and CenturyLink Fiber.
Cable internet is also a fast connection type with top speeds up to 1,000 Mbps. It doesn’t have symmetric upload speeds, and cable connections can slow down when a lot of people in a neighborhood are on the same network at the same time. A few notable cable providers are Xfinity, Spectrum, and Cox.
DSL internet can handle top speeds around 100 Mbps, but it usually performs slower than that because the wires carrying your internet data are older and more prone to interference over long distances. Examples of some DSL internet companies are CenturyLink and Frontier.
Satellite internet is usually the slowest type of internet due to its high latency. Think about it: all the information you send and receive has to go to space and back. Satellite internet providers are HughesNet and Viasat (and soon to be Starlink).
- How Much Internet Speed You Need to Work from Home
- How to Check Your Internet Speed
- What Is a Good Download and Upload Speed?
- The Consumers Guide to Internet Speed