How Fast is Fast Enough? Bandwidth Requirements

How Fast is Fast Enough? Bandwidth Requirements

Jason Yang
Apr 12, 2011

Every ISP touts the blazing speed of their network, and it's nice to have a fast Internet connection, whether it's at home or on the go. Fiber to doorstep providers like FIOS and cable providers are constantly touting their speed in TV ads, and in the mobile arena we all recall and hate the networks constantly attempting to stick it to their competitor. We all want the latest and fastest, but the question to be asked is how much speed do we really need?

In our home state of Maryland, the two major players are Verizon and Comcast. Verizon FiOS averages plans from 15 Mbps download / 5 Mbps upload all the way to a blazing 50 Mbps download / 20 Mbps upload, ranging in price from $49.99 to $139.95 per month. Comcast's XFINITY internet offers services from as low as 1.5 Mbps download / 384 Kbps upload all the way up to 50 Mbp download / 10 Mbps upload, ranging in price from $29.99 to $114.95 per month. Both seem fairly equivalent

You can test your own internet speed with, as Unplggd reported a while back. Actual speeds will vary quite a bit from advertised numbers, and you'll need to bear in mind that your ISP may not be able to sustain its maximum throughput when facing a constant stream of data (say watching a Netflix streaming movie).

So how much speed do you really need?

Hulu states that most of their video streams at 480 Kbps or 700 Kbps, but recommend a bandwidth of 1 Mbps or higher. Some of their higher 480p videos stream at 1 Mbps and require a 1.5 Mbps downstream bandwidth for smooth playback.

YouTube lists a minimum of 500 Kbps of bandwidth as part of their system requirements, although we did not find any actual bandwidth specifications. In 2009 charted categories for performance, with the highest performance being in the 1 Mbps and higher range. An amazing bit of trivia we came across is the statistic of YouTube customers using as much bandwidth in 2007 as the entire Internet in 2000 itself, reflecting bandwidth requirements increase as time progresses and offerings online expand.

Netflix is a notorious "bandwidth hog" and Unplggd reports bandwidth requirements at 3.6 Mbps for movies.

1.5 to 3 Mbps seems a far way from saturating your 15 to 50 Mbps pipe in your home.

So how much speed do you really need? For the immediate future for those of us who simply browse the web and watch streaming videos, it doesn't seem like you need more than a few Mbps download speeds. There are even tips and tricks to speed up your current connection. So our recommendation for now is to save your money. You can always upgrade down the line when streaming requirements start jumping up as technology and quality improves.

Are you happy with your internet connection or are you looking to upgrade to a faster one soon?

(Images: Flickr members Roland Tanglao licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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