What are Mbps? Your internet speed explained.
“Mbps” stands for megabits per second—not to be confused with megabytes per second (MBps), which measures file sizes or amounts of data transferred. You might also see internet service providers (ISPs) toss around “Gbps,” which stands for gigabits per second. For reference, 1 Gbps is the same as 1,000 Mbps.
More speed is better, right?
Well, maybe not. Pay for speed you don’t need and you could end up overpaying.
Instead, it’s better to find out how much internet speed you need, then pick a plan that offers that speed, save money, and treat yourself for a job well done.
3 things to think about when picking internet speed
Finding the best internet speed for you is easy as 1-2-3.
For starters, there are three main things you’ll want to keep in mind when trying to figure out how many Mbps you need:
- The number of people using the internet in your home
- What types of activities you do online
- How many of your devices connect to the internet
Number of people: You’ll want more Mbps if you have more people using your internet. If it’s just you flying solo, then you won’t have to worry as much about faster speeds.
What you do 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 need different speeds—otherwise you’ll run into laggy internet or that dreaded buffering icon.
Number of connected devices: The more devices you have that use the internet, the more speed, or Mbps, you need.
This one takes some thinking, because in today’s world, there are so many devices that use the internet. It’s easy to forget how many you have at home, but we’ll help jog your memory.
How much speed do you need for . . .
What’s the best internet speed for streaming Netflix? Spotify? Hulu? We’ve got the answer.
If you’re streaming the latest episodes of Jessica Jones on Netflix, you’ll need more speed than someone who’s just deleting all that spam mail out of their inbox.
Here’s a quick guide to what speeds you’ll need for certain online activities.
How much internet speed do you need?*
|Streaming video—standard definition (SD)||3 Mbps|
|Streaming video—high definition (HD)||5 Mbps|
|Streaming video—4K / Ultra HD||25 Mbps|
|Streaming music||1–5 Mbps|
|Downloading large files (HD movies, torrents)||5–50 Mbps|
|Making video calls||0.5–1.5 Mbps|
|Checking email and social media||1 Mbps|
See sources 1 and 2 at end of article.
Notice how little speed you need for most of these activities? Two things about that:
- These are recommended starting points. For example, it’s better to have more than 5 Mbps to stream HD video so you don’t run into that spinning buffering wheel.
- These recommended speeds don’t take into account the two other factors we mentioned earlier: number of users and number of devices.
Don't play chicken with buffering
Why? Because the internet is a shared utility, and it does slow down from time to time. With some extra speed behind your browser, those slow downs should barely affect you.
Yup, these recommended speeds really 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 phenomenon when it comes to doing things online. You’re streaming Kanye’s latest music video on YouTube while you check email and download an HD video to watch later tonight. And your roommate, kid, or partner is doing the same.
That’s 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 on the interwebs.
What types of devices use the internet?
Short answer: pretty much anything made in the twenty-first century.
Say “so long” to the days when your PC was the only thing hooked up to the internet. (All thanks to that AOL CD, we bet.)
Pretty much everything latches on to that Wi-Fi signal in your house, so it’s really important to think long and hard about which of these connected devices you have. That way, you can get a better idea of the speed you need.
- TVs (connecting through apps like Netflix, Amazon Video, etc.)
- DVRs (DIRECTV Genie, DISH Hopper, etc.)
- Gaming consoles (PS4, Xbox One, etc.)
- Computers, laptops, tablets
- Cell phones
- Streaming boxes (Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Roku, etc.)
- Smart appliances (Nest, etc.)
- Security systems (ADT, Protect America, etc.)
So just like the number of people connecting to the internet in your home, you’ll want to add more Mbps to your internet plan if you have lots of web-enabled devices, as well.
But before you add all those devices up, let’s take a quick step back.
Which of these devices are connected to your internet most of the time, or during “prime time” at your house? Sure, you may have a Roku collecting dust in the corner, but if you rarely turn it on, there’s no need to factor it in.
Conclusion—what internet speed do you need?
Time to tally up all the things to find out to find out what download speed you need.
Ready to figure out just how much internet speed you need? Here’s the TL;DR on how to figure it out.
- Count how many people use the internet at home on a regular basis.
- Tally up the number of internet-connected devices you use daily.
- Take a look at the recommended internet speed for the things you like to do online.
- Add at least 5 Mbps of extra speed to dodge a buffering catastrophe.
- Add it all up—or hit the easy button and check out HighSpeedInternet’s download speed calculator.
- Find an internet plan that matches your needs. Check out our top picks for ISPs here—and our favorite ISPs for gaming and streaming too.