Internet speed needs: How many Mbps do I need?

Whether you’re at home or on mobile, here’s the Mbps speed you really need.

Mbps is an initialism that you’re likely used to seeing, particularly when it comes to NBN plans. But just because it’s familiar, doesn’t mean its application is self-explanatory. That’s what we’re here to help out with. So whether you’re after a practical understanding of the kind of Mbps you need for your NBN home internet or a Prepaid or SIM Only mobile plan, this article has you covered.

Mbps meaning

Mbps is short for ‘megabits per second’. Unlike kilometres-per-hour that measures both speed and distance with the same term, megabits is used to talk about internet speed whereas data is talked about in megabytes. Getting technical for a breath, there are eight megabits to every megabyte, but we can all surely agree that NBN 12.5 doesn’t sound as impressive as NBN 100 if we were to talk about bandwidth speed in terms of megabytes.

What is bandwidth and why is it important?

Bandwidth is the amount of Mbps you have available to use. The amount of internet bandwidth available to your home is determined by the NBN speed tier, your provider – including their typical evening download speed (when using the ’net at night) – and the online tasks being performed in your home. Let’s use the popular NBN 50 speed tier as an example.

This has a maximum of 50Mbps download and 20Mbps upload available. If you start streaming 4K Netflix movies to your TV, 25Mbps of your download bandwidth is gone, leaving a maximum of 25Mbps to be shared around. With two simultaneous 4K Netflix streams, you wouldn’t have any spare download bandwidth to do anything else. If you try to do something online, either the quality of your video streams would suffer or the other online activities would be slower than usual.

Additionally, that’s assuming that your provider can deliver 50Mbps download speeds. Even if those speeds are at 45Mbps, which may be the case during the busy nightly period, an NBN 50 connection couldn’t comfortably handle two concurrent 4K Netflix streams.

NBN Mbps speeds

According to the February 2021 global index on the Speed Test website, the global average for fixed-line broadband (like most NBN services) is 97.52Mbps for download and 51.79Mbps for upload. You have to scroll quite a way down the list to find Australia (we were at 57 at the time of writing), with 71.37Mbps download speeds and 23.63Mbps upload speeds. While those download and upload averages have come a long way in the past few years, they’re still lagging behind the global average.

As far as NBN connections are concerned, most home users in metro areas have a choice of NBN 12, NBN 25, NBN 50 and NBN 100 connections, with NBN 250 and NBN 1000 connections available to Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) and select Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) homes.

NBN Co recommends that NBN 12 is only used for very basic internet usage (think: sending emails), NBN 50 is for homes with three or four people, while NBN 100, NBN 250 and NBN 1000 are best for homes with five or more people. NBN 25 is absent from the recommendations.

Below is a table breaking down the different NBN speed tiers in terms of their maximum potential download speeds, upload speeds and the types of recommended activities. Note that each successive column entry for ‘Online activities’ also includes everything above it.

Online activities by NBN speed tier
NBN speed tierMax download speedMax upload speedRecommended usersOnline activities
NBN Basic (12)12Mbps1Mbps1Emailing
Web browsing
Music streaming
NBN Basic II (25)25Mbps5Mbps1–3HD video streaming
Videoconferencing
NBN Standard (50)50Mbps20Mbps3–4Concurrent HD streams
Fast file downloading
Concurrent videoconferencing
NBN Fast (100)100Mbps20Mbps
40Mbps
5+Concurrent 4K streams
Game streaming services
Streaming games
NBN Superfast (250)250Mbps25Mbps5+Faster file downloading
Faster file uploading
NBN Ultrafast (1000)1000Mbps50Mbps5+Fastest file downloading
Fastest file uploading
Concurrent game streaming services

What about upload Mbps?

Unless you’re someone who likes to stream games online with a Full HD (or higher) webcam view of you as you play or use game streaming services like xCloud or Parsec, upload speed isn’t as important as download speed when it comes to most typical online activities. You’ll mainly notice upload bandwidth when it comes to the speedier results of backing up photos or uploading larger files.

Mobile Mbps speeds

There’s a lot more NBN fixed-line speed data available than there is for mobile speeds. That said, according to the February 2021 global index on Speed Test, the global average for mobile is 46.94Mbps download and 12.49Mbps upload. Australia fares really well in this comparison, slotting in at seventh place with 110.34Mbps average download speeds and 16.47 average upload speeds.

In practical terms, 4G mobile internet can reach download speeds up to 100Mbps, while 5G currently can double or triple that, depending on the network, how close you are to a 5G tower and how congested the network is.

How many Mbps do I need for NBN?

With all of the theory out of the way, which NBN speed tier is right for your home? As you can see from the table above, web browsing and emailing can be done on any connection, including the slowest NBN 12 speed tier. Below is a daily updating list of popular NBN 12 plans.

We’d recommend NBN 25 as the absolute minimum starting point for home internet, though, as it offers the versatility of adding in a whole lot more than just basic web browsing and emailing. Downloading larger files isn’t going to be particularly fast, and you won’t have a whole lot of bandwidth to play with if you start playing around with multiple HD video streams. Below is a daily updating list of popular NBN 25 plans.

NBN 25 used to be called NBN Standard but, these days, NBN 50 is the new NBN Standard, and with good reason. NBN 50 is the most popular speed tier and represents a great middle ground between monthly value and bandwidth versatility. Use an NBN 50 connection to not worry about juggling multiple tasks like concurrent HD streams, online gaming and videoconferencing. Below is a daily updating list of popular NBN 50 plans.

The doubling-bandwidth trend continues with NBN 100, which is great for the home with more than four people, none of whom want to worry too much about monitoring internet usage. Watch multiple 4K streams, video chat and download larger files faster. Below is a daily updating list of popular NBN 100 plans.

Only FTTP homes and select HFC premises can get NBN 250 and NBN 1000 plans, but that will change in the future as the NBN is upgraded. Still, if you do get an NBN 250 plan, it’s likely because you’re in a home with a lot of internet users and a lot of connected devices. NBN 250 means you can effortlessly stream four 4K streams (the max on a single Netflix account) with plenty of bandwidth spare to handle everything else you want to do online. Below is a daily updating list of popular NBN 250 plans.

NBN 1000 is mainly meant for gamers who want to wait as little time as possible for the latest game or multi-gigabyte update to download so they can get back into the game sooner. Even if you’re not a gamer, everyone in an NBN 1000 home should feel completely free to do whatever bandwidth-hogging task they like online. Below is a daily updating list of popular NBN 1000 plans.

How many Mbps do I need for mobile?

This is simplified somewhat because there are only a few core options. You can opt for 4G or 5G, with the newer 5G requiring a compatible phone, plan and an area that has 5G coverage from the respective telco. The third option is going with the Felix $35 Subscription, which comes with unlimited data, albeit speeds capped at 20Mbps, which is plenty for all online tasks except for 4K streaming (and there aren’t many 4K phones that can do that).

Thankfully, any 4G-compatible phone can reach speeds beyond 20Mbps, it means you have an option of either SIM Only or Prepaid plans. Below is a daily updating list of the most popular SIM Only plans.

And below is a daily updating list of the most popular Prepaid plans.

The only other thing to consider for SIM Only and Postpaid plans is when providers cap your max available bandwidth if you exceed your data cap. For telcos like Telstra and Optus, this means speeds of 1.5Mbps, which isn’t enough to do more than web browsing, emailing, music streaming and light social media browsing.

Vodafone does things differently by offering incrementally improving bandwidth caps depending on the price of the plan. The two cheapest Vodafone SIM Only plans cap speeds at 2Mbps if you go over, but the next two cap speeds at a very useable 10Mbps, while the most expensive $120 SIM Only Ultra Plan caps speeds at 25Mbps, which effectively means online business as usual outside of incredibly fast video buffering or file downloading.

How many Mbps does it use?

Check out the table below for a breakdown of common online tasks, the Mbps they use and the recommended NBN speed tier.

Common online activities by Mbps
Online activityMbps requiredMin. recommended NBN planRecommended mobile plan
Stan HD7.5MbpsNBN 254G
Netflix 4K25MbpsNBN 505G
Kayo Sports6MbpsNBN 254G
Tidal music1.4MbpsNBN 124G
Zoom6Mbps (3 down, 3 up)NBN 254G
xCloud20Mbps (10 down, 10 up)NBN 1005G