How Much Internet Speed Do I Need?
Most of us can get away with internet speeds between 50 and 100 Mbps. Speeds of 50 to 100 Mbps allow a few people to stream in HD or even 4K, game, and work from home.
Here’s a quick look at what you can do with other speeds commonly offered by internet service providers (ISPs):
|Internet speed||Number of people||Activities|
|5–25 Mbps||1–2||Casual web browsing, emails, social media, streaming SD video, streaming music|
|25–50 Mbps||1–3||Streaming HD and 4K video, streaming music, gaming, light work from home|
|50–100 Mbps||2–4||Streaming 4K video, gaming, working from home, using home security devices|
|100–500 Mbps||2–5||Streaming 4K video, gaming, running a home office, using home security and smart home devices|
|500–1,000 Mbps||3–5+||Running a home office or creative profession, streaming in 4K, gaming, using home security and smart home devices|
But really, finding the right internet speed for you is more of a balancing act. If you don’t have enough Mbps, you’ll get a visit from the nasty buffering icon. If you have too many Mbps, you might be paying too much for your internet plan.
To find that sweet spot, you’ll want to follow these steps:
1. Count how many people use your internet
The more people using your internet, the more speed, or Mbps, you need.
Don’t forget to count yourself when you tally up everyone who connects to your internet. Other potential internet users can include your partner or spouse, children, housemates, and even frequent visitors, like grandkids or siblings.
Gamers also need an internet connection with low latency—and maybe some upload speed to top it off. Find out which ISPs we recommend for gaming so you or your gamer housemate doesn’t get pwned.
2. Look at all the devices using your Wi-Fi
Like people, the more devices you have that use the internet, the more Mbps you need.
This one takes some thinking, because there are so many devices that use your internet in today’s world. It’s easy to forget how many you have at home, but this list of common connected devices might help jog your memory:
- Smart TVs and apps: Netflix, Amazon Video, HBO Max, etc.
- DVRs: DIRECTV Genie, DISH Hopper, etc.
- Streaming devices: Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Roku, etc.
- Gaming consoles: PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, etc.
- Computers, laptops, tablets
- Cell phones
- Smart appliances: Nest thermostat, smart locks, smartbulbs, etc.
- Smart home hubs: Amazon Echo, Anova Precision Cooker, etc.
- Security systems: Hubs and cameras for ADT, Vivint, Simplisafe, Ring, etc.
3. Get an idea of what you and others do online
What do you do when you’re online? Do you game? Watch Hulu? Stream music on Spotify? Or maybe you’re a pretty casual internet user who just checks email and Facebook.
Each of these activities needs different speeds—otherwise you’ll run into laggy internet or that dreaded buffering icon. Here’s a quick look at the bare minimum internet speed you’ll need for a few common online activities.
|Streaming SD video (480p)||3 Mbps|
|Streaming HD video (1080p)||5 Mbps|
|Streaming 4K video (2160p)||25 Mbps|
|Streaming music||1–10 Mbps|
|Downloading large files (HD movies, PDFs, etc.)||10 Mbps|
|Making video calls||0.5–1.5 Mbps|
|Checking email and social media||1 Mbps|
- These are recommended starting points.
- These recommended speeds don’t take into account the number of internet users and number of devices.
These recommended speeds only work if it’s just you doing one online activity at a time. Who does that?
It’s more likely you’re a multitasking machine when it comes to doing things online. You’re streaming Impact Theory on YouTube while you check email, download an HD video to watch later tonight, and hop into a Call of Duty match. And your roommate, kid, or partner is doing the same.
This is why most ISPs don’t offer internet plans with just 5 Mbps—they’re offering you 50, 100, even 1,000 Mbps plans, so you can keep doing what you do best online.
4. Add up the Mbps you need per person and device
Okay, now that you’ve got a general idea of who and what uses your internet and how they use it, it’s time to do some math. (Don’t worry, it’s just some simple addition.)
We’ll start by going over our recommended baseline speed per person and device.
Recommended internet speed per person or device
We recommend giving each person who uses the internet in your home 25 Mbps. And for every device, you can allot 10 Mbps. (But if it’s a 4K device, bump that up to 25 Mbps.)
- People: 25 Mbps per person
- Devices (not 4K): 10 Mbps per device
- Devices (4K): 25 Mbps per 4K device
Okay, now let’s see how those recommended speeds add up with an example.
Let’s say we have a home with two adults and two children who all use the internet. Here’s a list of the internet speeds each person gets, plus the internet speeds each of their devices gets.
- People: 25 Mbps x 4 = 100 Mbps
- Desktop computer: 10 Mbps x 2 = 20 Mbps
- Laptop: 10 Mbps
- Tablet: 10 Mbps
- Cell phones: 10 Mbps x 3 = 30 Mbps
- Smart TV (4K): 25 Mbps x 2 = 50 Mbps
- Xbox gaming console: 10 Mbps
- Wi-Fi printer: 10 Mbps
- Home security system hub: 10 Mbps
- Home security camera: 10 Mbps x 2 = 20 Mbps
- Total: 270 Mbps
The recommended internet speed for this family is 270 Mbps. That may seem like a lot of speed, and you’re probably right. This recommendation assumes that every person and every device is online at the same time.
That’s where online activities can factor in. If the family knows they usually stream 4K videos on one of their TVs about once a week and in the evening when no one’s on their computers, gaming on the Xbox, or using the printer, they can probably knock this speed down a bit to 200 Mbps.
If the family knows no one uses the computers and tablet for working or studying from home, they might even be able to get away with 100 or 150 Mbps.
Even though it’s not a definitive answer, adding up the speeds needed for the people and devices using your internet gives you a ballpark estimate of where your internet speeds need to be.
5. Find an internet plan that works for you
Next stop? Finding an internet provider and plan that matches your speed needs. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but we can help.
Enter your zip code, and we’ll pull up a full list of internet providers available in your area. Then you can easily check what plans they have for you and how much each plan costs. Easy, peasy.
Now that you know how much internet speed you need, check this out next.
Look for internet providers with the speeds you need in your area.
Find out which ISPs are the best in the US.6 BEST INTERNET PROVIDERS
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “Broadband Speed Guide,” February 2020. Accessed November 10, 2020.
- Catherine McNally, Reviews.org, “Best Internet for Streaming,” August 2020. Accessed November 10, 2020.
- Tyler Abbott, Reviews.org, “What Internet Speed Do I Need for Zoom?,” May 2020. Accessed November 10, 2020.