How Fast Does my Internet Have to Be?

When deciding which internet package best suits your needs, the two major factors to look at are speed and usage allowance.

Internet speed is the rate at which your connection can transfer data while downloading and uploading files, and is typically measured in Kbps (Kilobits per Second) or Mbps (Megabits per Second).

Mbps vs. MBps

It is important to note that there is a difference between 1 Mbps (Megabits/Second) and 1 MBps(Megabytes/Second). The most important thing to remember is that 1 Byte = 8 Bits, so a speed of 1 Megabit per Second (1 Mbps) does not mean that a 1 Megabyte photo will take 1 second to download. It will take approximately 8 times that long (8 seconds), as the connection speed is only 1/8th of a megabyte per second.

The standard unit of measurement for internet speed is Kilobits per Second (Kbps) and Megabits per Second (Mbps), and those are the standards used across this site.

256 Kbps0.25 Mbps
512 Kbps0.5 Mbps
1024 Kbps1 Mbps

Upload Speed vs. Download Speed

As you may have noticed, there is almost always a difference between the quoted upload and download speeds from all internet providers. As most of us do much more downloading (eg. checking Facebook, watching videos on YouTube, streaming movies from Netflix) than uploading (eg. adding photos to Flickr, adding videos to YouTube, sending emails with large attachments), the download speed is much more crucial than upload speed.

Upload Speed

For most of us, an upload speed of 1024 Kbps (1 Mbps) is more than sufficient for almost any need. Unless you need high-definition video calling through Skype, or are planning on providing live video streams, 1 Mbps should suffice for most households. In fact, you could probably get away upload speeds that are about half as fast for most uses, though you may get quite frustrated when trying to Skype, adding a video to YouTube, or uploading an entire album of photos to Facebook.

Faster upload speeds are nice to have, and will definitely save some time and frustration, but are not a necessity for most of us. We really only need faster upload speeds to make high-definition video calling and hard-core gaming experiences smoother. It is also beneficial to have a faster upload speed for smooth VoIP (Voice Over IP) conversations, such as through Skype calling, especially if there are multiple computers sharing the same connection.

Download Speed

For a more seamless and less frustrating internet experience, it is always nicer to have a faster internet connection. As websites become more heavily saturated with photos and videos (the average webpage is now over 1 MB of data), a faster connection speed will definitely benefit your internet experience. Below are our recommendations for minimum download speeds depending on your activities.

Internet ActivityRecommended Download Speed
Simple Email and Online Shopping256 Kbps
Skype Calling1 Mbps
Photos, Facebook, Low Quality Video1 Mbps
Skype Video Calling4 Mbps
Watching YouTube and Vimeo4 Mbps
Watching YouTube and Vimoe in HD6 Mbps
Streaming Movies and TV Shows8 Mbps

How Fast Does my Internet Have to Be for Netflix?

Many of us are planning on switching internet providers with the idea of streaming movies and TV shows from Netflix, either on our computers or on our TVs via a laptop, Apple TV, or gaming console such as Xbox or Playstation 3.

Netflix recommends a minimum download speed of 0.5 MB per second, which is the equivalent of about 4 Mbps. Technically, 4 Mbps should be sufficient for high-definition streaming, however you will likely not have the experience you are looking for.

The upload and download speeds quoted by an internet service provider are “up to” speeds, meaning you will be getting close to, but not often faster than, the maximum speed for which you are signed up. With a speed of 4 Mbps, you will be on the cusp of a high-definition Netflix stream, resulting in your movies either not being shown in HD (Netflix automatically selects the best quality for your available speed at that time), or you will have excessively long buffering time and your movies may be choppy or pause while watching.

For a proper High-Definition Netflix connection, we would recommend a minimum of 8-12Mbps. This is higher than the Netflix recommendation, but will provide you with an almost guaranteed High-Definition video stream, even while browsing the web or loading a YouTube video on another computer.

What is Internet Throttling, and How Does it Affect Me?

Some of these internet providers mention that they reserve the right to “throttle” your connection speed, meaning that they may limit the upload and/or download speeds to lower than the maximum “up-to” speed you are purchasing from them. This is mainly done under a “fair-use” policy to prevent you from hogging all of the available bandwidth on their network, so as to provide all of their customers with acceptable service.

Typically internet throttling is only used to limit the upload speeds for P2P (Peer to Peer) networks, such as file sharing programs like BitTorrent and Azureus, and doesn't affect the average internet user.

What Else Affects my Download Speed?

Your upload and download speeds are mainly determined by the level of service you are getting from your internet service provider. There are other factors in play as well, such as how many other people are on the network (especially with Cable), your modem and router setup, as well as how many computers on your wireless network are sharing the same internet connection. Download speeds are also sometimes limited by the server on which a certain webpage is hosted, so it may be that some websites just do not download as quickly as other, no matter have fast your internet connection speed is.