What’s a Good Internet Speed?


When looking for a new internet plan, the first thing on most people’s minds is speed. Everyone wants a fast internet connection. But how fast is fast? How do you know if your current plan is fast enough or if you need something faster?

We’ll take a closer look at internet speed, explain the ins and outs, and determine what it means for your internet plan.

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What’s a good download speed?

An internet speed of 500–1,000 Mbps is a good download speed for nearly any online activity. When most people think of internet speed, they’re thinking of download speed. Download speed determines how fast information from the internet gets to our devices, whether that information is a web page, a movie, or a Windows update. Download is what we use most often when we’re online, so it usually makes sense to focus on it first. When internet service providers (ISPs) advertise their internet speeds, download speed is what they’re talking about.

What counts as a “good” download speed depends a bit on what you do online. For an average household, 10 Mbps per person is a good estimate. That means if you have four people in your house, your internet plan should at least be 40 Mbps. Certain online activities, like streaming movies on Netflix, use a lot more bandwidth. If your evening routine involves everyone in the house streaming HD video to a different device, you’re going to need a bit more speed to keep everyone happy.

Pro tip

Do you have problems with your video buffering? Try out these tips to stop buffering when streaming to get your shows playing smoothly again.

But just because you have blazing fast download speeds doesn’t mean your internet experience will necessarily be seamless. There’s a lot more to fast internet than just download speed.

What’s upload speed?

Upload speed determines how fast you can upload information like a social media post, a YouTube video you made, or a cloud file from your computer to the rest of the internet—it’s essentially the reverse of download speed.

Many people are shocked their first time taking an internet speed test to find that even though they’re paying for a 300 Mbps internet connection, their upload speed is hovering around a measly 5–10 Mbps. This is actually pretty standard and not usually something to worry about.

All online activities use a bit of upload speed when we click on a link or select a video to watch, but this is fairly minimal. A 5 Mbps upload speed is more than enough for surfing the web, shopping on Amazon, checking your email, or watching YouTube.

Even if you don’t live in an urban area with access to cable networks, upload speed usually isn’t as important as download speed. A 1.5 Mbps upload speed from a service like DSL is usually perfectly capable of handling these sorts of online tasks. Although you’ll still have to deal with latency, satellite internet is a bit better on that front, with both Viasat and HughesNet offering upload speeds of 3 Mbps.

Some activities, however, require much more upload speed to run smoothly. Livestreaming to sites like Twitch or Facebook is perhaps the most demanding, and people who are working from home might find their connection bogged down every time they have to upload a file to their company servers.

If upload speed is becoming a bottleneck, it might be time to look into an ISP that offers a type of internet with higher upload speeds. Fiber connections offer the best upload speeds, reaching 1 Gbps or higher, but cable connections can offer decent upload speeds of up to 50 Mbps. Neither of these types of connection are widely available in rural areas, so if you live outside the range of a cable network, your options are limited . . . for now.

SpaceX’s Starlink internet service is a low-orbit satellite constellation that is currently under development.* When it launches, it will be available throughout the US, much like other satellite internet services, but will offer download speeds estimated at up to 150 Mbps and upload speeds that were recently measured at over 40 Mbps—nearly as fast as the fastest cable upload speeds.1 This could be a game changer in many rural areas, allowing people to livestream and video chat as easily as people living in the city.

*Starlink speed, pricing, data, and latency numbers are estimates based on current data as of 10/2/2020. Actual data may vary when Starlink service is officially launched.

Need a faster internet package? Check out internet providers in your area.

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What do I need download and upload speed for?

We use upload speed and download speed for different online activities, so it’s frustrating to find out you’re short on the one that you need. Here’s a basic breakdown of which activities require which kinds of speed.

Download speed is used to get information from the internet to your home. Surfing the web, watching video, downloading files, updating your operating system, and listening to music all rely primarily on download speed.

Upload speed is used to get information from your device out to the internet. Livestreaming video, uploading files, and posting on social media all rely primarily on upload speed.

Some activities rely on both upload and download speed. These include video chat, online learning, and playing online games. These real-time activities also are the most vulnerable to lag, so it’s good to have a connection with low latency.

What’s a good internet speed for rural internet?

A good download speed for rural internet is 50–100 Mbps. To determine what’s a good internet speed for your specific needs, the same basic rules apply as in cities. You want a connection that will be enough for your family’s internet usage. There are also a number of different ways to get internet in rural areas, including satellite connections, DSL, or 4G LTE cellular networks.

Popular rural internet providers

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BrandTypePrice rangeDownload speed
HughesNetSatellite$59.99–$149.99/mo. Up to 25 MbpsView plans
ViasatSatellite$30.00–$150.00/mo.Up to 100 MbpsView plans
Verizon Home 4G LTE4G LTE$40.00–$60.00/mo.*25 MbpsView plans
AT&TDSL$35.00–$45.00/mo.Up to 100 MbpsView plans
Rise BroadbandFixed Wireless$40.94/mo.–$75.00/mo.Up to 50 MbpsView plans

Data as of 10/21/2020

*Plus taxes and fees. With Auto Pay.

Most rural areas don’t have access to high-speed options like cable and fiber internet connections, which can make it harder to get the speed you need. Faster download speeds over satellite can also get expensive, so it might be worth it to come at the math from a different direction. Instead of increasing your internet speed, you can look for ways to use less speed.

One way to get by on slower internet speeds is to sign up for satellite TV rather than relying on streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. Satellite TV is separate from your satellite internet, so it doesn’t take up bandwidth or count against your data caps. It does require paying for a separate service, but this can be cheaper than paying for a more expensive satellite plan when you factor in paying for the additional internet data consumed by streaming services.

What’s a good Wi-Fi speed?

Your Wi-Fi speed should be at least as fast as your internet connection. If it’s not, you need to upgrade your router right away so that you’re not wasting money on speed you can’t use. There are a lot of Wi-Fi routers on the market, but fortunately finding the right speed for you is pretty straightforward.

If you have a lot of devices on your home network, most modern routers use dual-band or tri-band technology to keep your Wi-Fi from getting bogged down. You can also find Wi-Fi 6 routers, the latest generation of Wi-Fi, which have even more advanced features to help you squeeze every last drop of speed out of your home network.

If you’re concerned about your Wi-Fi speed but aren’t ready to invest in a new router, the easiest solution is simply to plug your device directly into your router with an Ethernet cable. This is also a good tip for cutting down on latency since even a fast Wi-Fi connection adds to your latency.

Why is my internet still slow?

Even with a good upload and download speed, some online activities can still feel slow due to latency. Latency is the time it takes for a signal to move from your computer to another server on the internet. High latency will cause programs to lag, disrupting your experience. If you’re using satellite internet, your connection is especially prone to latency.

Pro tip

If you have satellite internet and your connection is slower than it should be, check out our satellite internet troubleshooting guide.

Latency doesn’t always cause problems. Video streaming, for instance, isn’t greatly impacted by latency because it buffers your video behind the scenes. It doesn’t matter if the information gets to your device a few seconds late as long as enough information is flowing in to keep up the video quality.

If you’re trying to play online games, however, a few seconds’ delay between you and the other players can make playing difficult or get you dropped from the game altogether. Even if your upload and download speeds are fast, lag can make your games feel slow. Lag can also cause problems with video chat and other applications that depend on real-time interaction.

Satellite internet is by far the internet type that’s most impacted by latency since your signal has to travel tens of thousands of miles to an orbiting satellite and back before it can reach a server. Fortunately, SpaceX’s new Starlink service aims to drastically reduce latency to under 30 ms by placing its satellites in low-Earth orbit, cutting your signal’s journey to a fraction of what it would take to reach a geosynchronous satellite.

Bottom line: Don’t spend money for speed you won’t use

It’s easy to just say “fastest is best” when looking for a new internet plan, but you don’t benefit much by paying for more speed than you could possibly use. To get the most for your money, you should pick an internet plan that meets your maximum speed requirements but doesn’t go much higher than that.

It’s also good to look at how much money getting a few extra megabytes per second will cost because sometimes having that video play a few seconds sooner doesn’t justify the price tag.

Find a provider that has the speeds you need.

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Sources

  1. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, ZDNet, “The Starlink internet beta has begun: Here’s what to expect,” October 27, 2020. Accessed November 2, 2020.
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