Understand internet speed. The term refers to the speed at which data, for example a Netflix movie, travels through your home. Since data “bits” are very small, speed is usually measured in megabits, or thousands of bits, per second (Mbps). Some super-fast fiber services can send data at one gigabit per second (Gbps).
Almost any internet speed is fine for receiving a text-only email, and you might only need 1 Mbps to listen to a Spotify song. However, you need around 25 Mbps to watch a 4K Netflix movie in HDR at its best quality.
Bandwidth is closely related to speed; it reflects the amount of available speed you can use, as your whole household will share the internet speed you have. So if two TVs in your house 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 data source and other factors.
More devices than you think. It’s easy to underestimate the number of devices using your home internet connection. Many of us switch from cell service to home Wi-Fi when using our smartphones at home. You may also have multiple laptops, smart TVs, smart speakers, smart thermostats, video doorbells, game consoles, and tablets. All of these devices share the same bandwidth when connecting to the Internet.
Download speeds matter too. Until recently, most consumers only had to worry about download speeds or how quickly videos and web pages arrived at their home. Recently, download speeds have become more important as they affect video calls, including conference calls with work and video chats with family and friends.
Most Internet plans from cable and DSL providers offer download speeds that are only a fraction of their upload speeds; a 25 Mbps plan may have a download speed of only 5 Mbps. Even if you have no problem watching the new season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” your Zoom calls with the office may be slow because of the video you upload for your part of the call. (Fiber-optic services from companies like Google and Verizon are “synchronous,” meaning they offer comparable upload and download speeds.)
Download speeds are also important if you post a lot of YouTube or TikTok videos. With slower speeds, your videos will pass, but it will take longer.