Having a stable and reliable internet connection is important, especially with so much of our lives relying on the online world. But there’s a lot that goes into choosing a home internet service, like how much you want to pay, how fast the speeds are in your area—and crucially, whether or not you’ll actually use all of the bandwidth you’re paying for.
Unfortunately, it’s really easy for home internet providers to oversell you on what kind of internet plan you need. But with a few bits of key information, you can determine whether you’re actually paying for a speed you need, or if you can afford to cut down your internet plan to save some money.
How to choose the right internet speed
When looking at home internet, it can be easy to default to the most expensive and fastest plans available. Sure, speed sounds nice, but just because you can reach those speeds, doesn’t mean you need them. To choose the perfect home internet speed, you’re going to want to look at two main factors.
How many devices do you want to connect?
What do you plan to do with your home internet?
The first factor there is obviously going to change if you add more devices to your home over time. But generally, you usually want to estimate anywhere from three to five devices per person in your home. That gives you ample wiggle room for smartphones, gaming consoles, computers, and whatever other smart tech your family might be using. While you might not feel that you need the fastest speed, many of the lower options don’t support as many devices being connected at one time, so that’s something to keep in mind.
The second factor is equally as important. If you just plan on surfing the web, watching Netflix, and messaging people on Discord or other social apps, then lower speeds will probably be fine, so long as they support the amount of devices in your household. However, if you work from home, do any kind of online gaming, or need to download large files quickly, then you will want to go with a faster speed. We’ll break all that down a little more in a second, but for now just remember to keep those two factors in mind whenever looking for new internet options.
What internet speeds do I need to stream online shows?
If you watch a lot of Netflix, Hulu, or any other streaming service, then you’ll need a decent internet speed, especially as many of these companies have started offering 4K and UHD video. The amount of bandwidth needed for these services can vary, but a good starting point for normal streaming is at least 100 Mbps.
This is a good deal more than Netflix’s recommended 25 Mbps for 4K Ultra HD content, but most of us have several devices connected when we’re watching TV, so it helps to even out any bandwidth slowdown that might come from that. If you don’t plan on watching in 4K, then a slower data speed could work, but you might experience buffering and slower loading times while you have several devices connected.
Sure, you could go with a slower speed and watch everything in standard definition. It might save you some money in the long run. But, ultimately, you may still find yourself suffering from buffering and other issues if you have a lot of devices connected at once.
What speed should I use for gaming?
Gaming is another thing entirely. If you do a lot of online gaming, then you’ll also likely have to download large update files regularly. While many services like Xbox, PlayStation, and even PC stores have more optimized download speeds than they used to, having a bit more to work with will come in very handy here, especially if you have other people in your home.
For most gaming needs, I’d recommend sticking with 150 Mbps at the lowest, though 200 Mbps is a much better speed overall. This gives you enough wiggle room for your large files, as well as for gaming itself, even if other people in the house are watching Netflix, YouTube, or downloading things of their own.
Why does it matter how many devices I have?
Ultimately, the amount of devices you have on your network isn’t going to slow it down necessarily or proportionally. That is, to say, the speed isn’t going to be halved or cut down because you have four devices on your network instead of two. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the internet speed you choose is the speed at which your network will be able to transmit data. That means that it can only transmit data at that speed for every single device you have on the network.
So, if you have four devices connected and an internet speed of 100 Mbps, then you’re likely to see some hangups—all four devices are trying to take their share of that bandwidth and there isn’t always going to be extra to share. That’s why I mention being aware of how many devices you have connecting to your internet. The more devices there are, the more things your internet will be doing at one time, which can cause bottlenecks and cause your speeds to feel slower than they should.
How can I be sure I’m getting what I paid for?
One of the easiest ways to check if you’re getting the internet speed you paid for is to run a speed test. There are several out there, though some are better than others. One of the most used, Speedtest by Ookla, is easy to use and relied on by many.
As frustrating as it is, it’s important to remember that an underwhelming speed test won’t necessarily spur your internet provider into action. When internet providers are shelling out their plans to you, they use two very key (sneaky) words in the marketing: “up to.” This means that your plan offers speeds up to whatever you choose. However, this does not guarantee that you will get that all the time, every time.
As such, I recommend doing a few speed tests to see how your internet connection is doing. First, run a test when you know that internet activity in your home and area is at its peak. This will show you how well the network is handling itself during the most intense times of the day. These peaks can vary, but most often they’ll happen whenever children are getting home from school and folks are getting off work.
Secondly, run a speed test during the “dead” hours of the day. This will give you a solid idea of where the internet is maxing out when it isn’t under a heavy load. If you see some huge discrepancies (like you’re paying for 100 Mbps and only getting 2 Mbps) then that’s a big problem. In those cases, it’s worth looking into changing internet providers or having your home serviced to check for issues.
How does internet speed affect wifi?
The speed of your home internet connection greatly affects wifi. But the speeds that your wifi router support also affect it greatly. As such, you’ll always want to be aware of the type of wifi that your router supports (Wifi 6, Wifi 6e, etc), as well as the speeds that it offers. If you’re paying for home internet that is 1 Gbps down, but you only have a router that supports up to 500 Mbps, then you’re not going to get the full effect of your internet service.
That’s why you should always look for a good wifi router that supports your home internet speeds. Otherwise you’ll just end up paying for something you’re not using.
Is Ethernet or wifi better?
This is a really subjective question, and while a lot of people will immediately say that wired is better (technically it is), wifi has come a long way, especially in recent years. As such, it really all depends on what kind of house you’re living in and whether or not you have the space or the know-how to run ethernet throughout the entire house.
If you have all of your devices right next to the router/modem, then using ethernet can be really great. You’ll still need to choose the right ethernet cables for your internet type and speeds, but it will suffer from less interference than wifi. If you have a large home, though, or if you rent and can’t run ethernet through the attic or other inconspicuous places, then wifi can still be really good, so long as you invest in a good router or mesh network for your home.
Always take into account what you plan to do on the internet and how many people will be connecting at one time. And you can always revisit it later. If you find that your internet speed isn’t working or that you’re seeing a lot of hangups like buffering and slow loading times, then you can always increase the speed to the next margin and see how that goes. Just try to take advantage of any deals that your internet provider might have going at the time.