The internet has become one of the most basic components of people’s lives in the twenty-first century. People rely on it to complete nearly any and all tasks, from the most mundane work and errand applications like online banking to a wide variety of entertainment consumption options, including video streaming and music streaming, social networking and international communication. The internet is what brings the world together, and with the nearly forgotten days of dial up connections far behind, people have a hard time thinking of anything worse than a slow internet connection. When deciding what kind of internet speed a home needs there are some important factors to consider, including how many devices will be connecting and what their users will be using them to do.
Internet Speed Basics & MBPS
One of the most basic elements in defining internet speeds is MBPS (or Mbit/s), or how many megabits of data are transferred per second, and according to this chart from a University of Florida professor, it is how the data transfer speed measurements of connections are classified. A bit is the smallest unit of digital data; it takes 8 bits to make a byte, 1,000 bytes to make a kilobyte, and so forth. The old dial-up connections with which many people grew up could typically provide no more than 56 kilobits of data per second. These days broadband speeds are measured in megabits, now often sold by internet companies in packages of 15, 50, and even 75 Mbit/s for download speeds.
Bandwidth vs. Speed
The speed of the connection and the amount of information that can be transferred at once through that connection is determined by the bandwidth. In simple terms, bandwidth is essentially the size of the conduit through which the data is traveling, while the speed is the rate at which the data is traveling. A larger bandwidth allows a user to complete more tasks at the same speed at the same time, sort of like an information highway with multiple lanes. With only one lane, or a smaller bandwidth, the transfers will slow each other down.
Download vs. Upload Speeds
Another facet of internet speeds is the download and upload speeds, though there is no real difference between the two aside from the direction of data transfer. Downloading is retrieving data, like opening a page or streaming a video, whereas uploading involves transmitting data, such as uploading a photo. Download speeds tend to be faster and are, consequently, more frequently advertised by internet providers. With a faster connection both download and upload speeds will increase; the number of tasks that can be completely simultaneously is heavily reliant on the bandwidth.
Speed Requirements for Various Computing Tasks
Cable and internet companies offer a variety of speed packages, though consumers are often charged a premium price for faster packages. To avoid paying more than necessary, it is therefore important to know what tasks a user intends to complete. For basic internet browsing, like checking email, social networks like Facebook or Twitter, and search engine usage, the speed requirements are relatively low and according to the FCC can be as slow as 0.5-1 Mbit/s. Streaming video, participating in HD video calls or 2-way online gaming, on the other hand, require much higher internet speeds with greater bandwidths because of the amount of data being used. To stream an HD video without lag or the video appearing grainy requires a minimum of 15 Mbit/s, though 25 Mbit/s would be preferable.
Finally, the number of processes being completed and users who are using a network, known as the network load, can have a great deal of impact on the internet speed. The more computers and other devices connected to the network, the slower the speed unless it is compensated for by adding additional bandwidth. If a network is supporting multiple users all streaming HD video, uploading photos, or downloading tasks simultaneously, each one will suffer from a slower connection.
There is no simple way to calculate how fast a household’s internet connection should be. Depending on how many people will be accessing the internet, how many devices they’ll be using and what the residents will be doing on the internet, the right speeds could vary from relatively sluggish to lightning fast.