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What is a good internet speed and why does it matter?

What is a good internet speed for your household? The answer depends on the number of devices you have and what you use them for.


What is a good internet speed and why does it matter?

What is a good internet speed for my household? We'll get to that, but first a little stage setting.

The average American home now has 25 devices connected to the internet. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, households' internet connectivity needs were increasing quickly. During the pandemic, millions of parents began working from home alongside millions of school-aged children who had to switch to virtual schooling. More leisure time is being spent streaming movies and TV shows, gaming online, and generally using the internet.

What counts as a good internet speed for your home will depend on a number of different factors, but the determining factor could be the difference between fiber internet and cable internet.

Both provide you with a connection to the internet, but a cable connection uses the same old copper cables that are used to transmit cable TV. While speeds can technically reach 1000 Mbps (megabits per second), that's seldom seen in practice—realistically, you're looking at download speeds of 25 Mbps up to maybe 100 Mbps. A fiber connection, by contrast, can consistently offer 1000 Mbps speeds with light traveling through optical glass as opposed to electrical signals transmitting over copper.

Here are the three biggest factors to consider if you're thinking about upgrading from cable to a fiber connection.

Upload and download speeds

Download speeds get all the limelight. They allow you to stream video and audio, read emails, and load web pages. Your download speed represents how fast you can receive data on your device, which naturally makes it crucial to your internet experience.

Upload speeds, on the other hand, determine how fast you can send data out from your device. These speeds are vital for video calls and online gaming.

If you're working from home or if you want friends and family to see your face during video calls, having fast, reliable internet matters a great deal. Also, if your children are still doing any virtual schooling, you'll need upload and download speeds that can handle all that video going back and forth.

A lot of internet providers will try to wow you with flashy download speeds while delivering subpar upload speeds, which can make essential daily activities like attending work-related Zoom calls difficult or impossible. Cable internet providers are notorious for this—they'll tout their 25 Mbps download speed but only offer 3 Mbps as their upload speed, which is the bare minimum required by the FCC to qualify as "high-speed" broadband.

Fiber optic internet, on the other hand, delivers 1000 Mbps download and upload speeds easily. Some fiber internet providers (like Ting Internet) will specifically offer symmetrical upload and download speeds.

Buffering

We've all been there: Trying to enjoy a new movie from the comfort of your home, and as the hero looks like they can't possibly make their way out of a jam, the movie pauses, and the dreaded loading circle appears right in the middle of the screen.

This is buffering, an internet downer since the earliest days of streaming media.

Think of streaming like laying railroad track in front of a train while the train is moving forward. When playing a video or audio stream, your internet connection is always fetching the next several seconds, ready to play. When it works as it should, you don’t notice it. Buffering happens when your internet connection can't keep up; playback pauses to give your internet connection a chance to catch up.

What is a good internet speed? Consider that, as more video starts streaming in 4K, you'll need more bandwidth to keep up with the sheer volume of data required for that level of visual quality. A minute of full 4K video is 375 MB. That translates to about 25 megabits per second (Mbps). With 25 connected devices in the average American household, though, we're not just watching a single 4K video.

This is where a fiber connection comes in handy. While cable internet is prone to interruptions, instability and unreliable speeds, a fiber connection is not just faster but also more stable and reliable.

Number of users

Don't think about the number of people in your household. Rather, think about the number of devices in your home that are connected to the internet. Smartphones, tablets, home assistants, game consoles, TVs and any other smart devices, like thermostats, coffee makers and fridges. Twenty-five connected devices sounds like a lot; it's easy to forget just how many devices we have that rely on the internet.

Appliances like smart fridges, smart thermostats and home assistants don't always require a ton of bandwidth individually, but it all adds up. If your internet connection is just scraping by, you've probably already run into its limitations at least a few times.

What is a good internet speed for your household?

Here's a list of some basic digital activities and the minimum sustained speeds required:

  • Email: 1 Mbps
  • Social media: 3 Mbps
  • Video calls: 5 Mbps
  • HD video streaming: 5 Mbps
  • Online gaming: 6 Mbps
  • 4K video streaming: 25 Mbps

With remote work, you need to see your coworkers on video calls, and with remote schooling, your kids need to be present on camera. If there are four of you trying to attend to your duties at the same time, your upload speed becomes just as important, or perhaps even more, important than, your download speed.

Check out Ting Internet to see if fast, reliable fiber internet is available in your neighborhood.

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