Few things can be more frustrating than slow internet. Many people pay for an internet speed they don't get, and many lack advice on choosing the most optimal broadband speed. The speed you should choose depends on how fast your current connection is, as well as the importance of speed to you and your needs.
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Internet speed - or lack of it - can affect the quality of your experience with everything from email and web browsing to online gaming and steaming.
To help you figure out which speed is right for you, you should first understand that connection speeds are calibrated in megabits per second (Mb or Mbps), a number that refers to how many bits of data - in millions - can move in a second.
The chart below provides bandwidth estimates, assuming one user is performing one task at a time.
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Understanding internet bandwidth
In general, bandwidth is the maximum speed at which you can download data from the Internet to your computer.
Think of bandwidth like a water hose. Say you need to fill a 100-liter tank. If your garden hose only expels 5 litres of water per minute, you'll have to wait 20 minutes to fill the tank. But a large fire hose that can take 5 litres of water every second will fill the tank in less than two minutes.
The width of the band is the size of the snake. The bigger it is, the more data you can pull down in a given time.
Bandwidth is measured in bits per second. Note that bits are different than bytes, the common measurement of file size. One byte equals 8 bits, so 1 megabyte (MB) equals 8 megabits.
If you have a 1 megabit per second connection, a 1MB file will take eight seconds to download.
On a 1 Mbps connection, an MP3 file measuring about 6 MB will take about 48 seconds to download. A 5 gigabyte or 5,000 MB movie will take about 11 hours.
Which internet connection to choose
The bandwidth allocated to you is shared among all devices on your connection. How much you need depends on how you use the internet.
If you have one person downloading a video game, another streaming a movie and another person is on Instagram on their phone, you need enough bandwidth to keep everyone happy.
Video streaming tends to eat up the most bandwidth, so households running with concurrent streams may want higher speeds. Netflix recommends a 3 Mbps connection for a standard quality stream and 5 Mbps for a high definition stream. Two simultaneous HD quality streams would need about 10 Mbps and so on.
Online video games don't require much bandwidth to play. However, downloading a video game or other large file requires a lot of bandwidth.
Frequent file sharers and downloaders may opt for higher speeds, although it's easy to schedule your downloads when network demand is low.
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