What Internet Speed Do I Need?

What Internet Speed Do I Need?

What Internet speed do I need? This is the question Internet users ask the most. What Internet speed do I need to be able to send and receive email, with and without attachments, large and small? What if I want to download music from the Internet, how fast does my Internet need to be for that? Do I need the fastest connection available to stream movies online?

Let’s see what we can do to answer these questions, shall we?

What Internet Speed Do I Need to Be Able to Do the Basics?

The basics are things like surfing the web, sending and receiving email. We’ve been doing these things for about 20 years now. When the Web was first introduced, we had to use a modem connected to our phone lines. Speeds were what we would consider excruciatingly slow these days. What connection speed you need for the basics depends on your patience?

The first modems I used were what are called acoustically coupled modems, where you had to dial the number you were dialing into on the phone itself? Once the other end picked up, you put the phone’s handset into a receptacle on the modem. Later modems eliminated this unwieldy contraption, as their speeds increased.

Even though these modems were quite slow, we still sent and received email, with and without attachments. We still downloaded music, and the occasional movie. However, the typical three-minute song in MP3 format took as much as two-three hours to download. What this tells us is that if we’re willing to wait, any Internet speed will allow us to do these basic things. We just had to wait a while before we could read the email or listen to the song. The more data there was in what we were downloading, be it pictures, songs, or long email manifestos, the longer it took.

What About Streaming Content Online?

The absolute need for higher connection speeds enters the question when we want to stream those movies or songs, meaning we want to watch them or listen to them immediately, as they are downloading. Because of how the Internet works, we have to have much higher connection speeds to allow us this functionality.

It’s a pretty well-kept secret that we can stream most content like movies and music with even a slow connection, we just have to wait until enough of what we want to listen to or watch has been downloaded to allow us to do so without having to continually buffer the content. Buffering is the process of downloading and reassembling the content so we can watch or listen to it. The slower the connection, the more it has to buffer. So now, you ask, exactly what Internet speed do I need to enable me to stream movies and music without having to start and stop the content?

Truth be told, if you ask 15 experts this question, you’re likely going to get 15 different answers. So, I asked Netflix what they recommend. Here’s what they told me:

  • For watching low-definition video on a laptop, you need a minimum speed of 1 Mbps
  • To watch that same low-def video on a TV, you’ll need at least 2 Mbps
  • For 720p high-definition video, no matter what it’s viewed on, you’re going to want a minimum of 4 Mbps
  • For 1080p high-definition video, your requirement bumps up to at least 5 Mbps

Of course, none of the speeds mentioned above take into account other users on the same Internet connection. As an example, if I have purchased an Internet connection from my provider that gives me 5 Mbps, but my son and daughter are playing on Facebook while I’m trying to watch a movie, my movie will probably start and stop (buffer), because they’re siphoning off some of my bandwidth. So, in order to stream my episodes of Criminal Minds in 1080p high-def, I’m going to want, nay need, 10 Mbps of connection speed.

What About World of Warcraft or Call of Duty?

This is where the answer to the question gets really cloudy. Most of the graphics that you see in the game is stored locally, on the computer or console, so the connection speed doesn’t have as much influence on your game play.

What really matters here is the latency of your connection and the server you’re playing the game on. Latency is basically the delay between when something is sent and when it is acted upon. Those of us in the computer industry define latency as the amount of delay that a system or connection experiences or exhibits.

The lower the latency the better your gameplay experience will be. My son plays a few games online and has a five MB/s connection and he only uses local servers, so he tells me his gaming experience is usually pretty good. Digital Landing has an excellent speed test tool you can use to test the latency of your connection. You should also “ping test” the available servers to determine which ones have the least latency. A ping is a type of test that sends a preset amount of data to another computer to test how fast it takes that computer to reply. The amount of time required is the latency.

Not being a gamer, I can’t tell you what game consoles will ping the available servers for you, but I do know you can perform your own ping test from a DOS window on your computer (See above):

  1. Click Start and then Run
  2. On the command line that appears, type CMD and hit Enter
  3. A black window with text will open
  4. Type Ping and the URL/address of the server
  5. Take note of the results
  6. To close the Command Prompt window, type “exit” (without the quotes) and hit Enter

This should help give you some sort of answer to the question, “What Internet speed do I need?” You can also test your speed with the Digital Landing Internet Speed Test!