Thanks to the novel coronavirus, we’re at a pivotal moment in the history of the internet. People need it more than ever because they’re stuck at home, but it might not be fast enough to meet everyone’s daily needs.
Multiple studies released over the past week have shown that home internet is slowing down in parts of the U.S. In some cases, adequate internet isn’t available at all. We don’t know what your personal internet situation is, but we do know roughly how much speed you need to do common tasks.
Below is a rundown of how fast your internet should be in order to do things like stream videos, play online multiplayer games, and work remotely. All you have to do to test your internet is go to Speedtest, which we must disclose is owned by Mashable’s parent company, J2. For most cases, the download speed (measured in megabits per second, or Mbps), is the golden number. That’s the rate at which your network can bring data to you.
Basic web browsing and work tasks
If you’re able to work remotely during our de facto quarantine, your daily routine is probably going to involve lots of emailing, Slacking, and maybe video calling depending on what you do. We’ll address video calls a little later, but for everything else included in this category, you don’t need to ride the bleeding edge of internet speeds to get by.
BroadbandNow has some basic guidelines for things like this and they recommend a minimum of 1Mbps to 5Mbps for web browsing and checking your email. You might not have the best time doing either of those things if your speed is that low, but you should be able to get things done…eventually. At the risk of editorializing, in my experience, it’s tough to accomplish much of anything if your download speed isn’t at least 10Mbps.
Other factors can come into play here, as well. Your WiFi signal strength might not be able to deliver ideal speeds because your router is old or needs to be moved, for example. You’ll get better results over WiFi if your router is in a central location, there are no walls interrupting the signal, and you make sure there aren’t too many devices connected at once.
Regarding that last point, it should be noted that these recommended minimums will probably only work if there isn’t much network traffic. If there are multiple people trying to use the same network at once, single-digit download speeds likely won’t cut it. That goes for all online activity, not just web browsing.
Streaming movies and TV shows
Everyone who’s cooped up inside needs a way to pass the time. It’s reasonable to assume every major streaming service is going to get a workout over the next several months, so you should make sure your internet is good enough to stream movies and TV shows at a watchable level of quality.
Each service has its own guidelines for this, but generally speaking, you don’t need super fast internet to stream video. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video both recommend a minimum of 5Mbps for HD content, while Hulu has a blanket 3Mbps minimum for all non-live content. Obviously, you could still experience buffering or quality drops if you’re streaming with speeds that low, which might be why BroadbandNow recommends at least 15Mbps to 25Mbps instead.
Coincidentally, that’s about the range Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu recommend for 4K content. Hulu says 16Mbps is required, while Netflix and Hulu suggest 25Mbps. BroadbandNow, however, recommends at least 40Mbps for 4K viewing. And depending on where you are, Ultra HD streaming might not even be possible right now anyway.
So far, we’ve relied exclusively on download speed because it’s the most important factor for web browsing and streaming. Online gaming is another matter, though. Whether you’re visiting your friends’ islands in Animal Crossing or battling for supremacy in Call of Duty, you need to get acquainted with a little something called “ping.” It’s one of the other metrics in a Speedtest result.
In the context of online gaming, ping is a measurement of how long it takes for your inputs to register with the game’s server. It’s typically measured in milliseconds and PC Gamer recommends a ping of 100ms or less for an optimal gaming experience. You can probably get away with up to 150ms depending on the game, but high a ping will create lag that makes online games nigh-unplayable.
Don’t forget about download speed, though. You might want to pair your low ping with a download speed of at least 40 to 50 Mbps for games to feel right. We recommend using ethernet cables for gaming, if possible.
Since people can’t see their friends in person, more and more folks are turning to Google Hangouts, Zoom, FaceTime, and other forms of video chat to socialize. The good news is you don’t need supersonic internet speeds to make these work.
Zoom, for example, only asks for 1.8Mbps to send and receive 1080p video in a 1-on-1 video call. That goes up to 2.5Mbps to 3Mbps for group calls. Of course, by now it should go without saying that you should do whatever you can to be in a faster network than that while video calling. If you can get at least 10Mbps to 20Mbps, you’ll deal with a lot less stuttering and dropped calls.
Google Hangouts has similarly low network requirements, though it notes that the burden goes up as more people are on a call. Video calling is going to be more important than ever in the coming months, so it’s somewhat comforting to know that it can be done without screamingly fast internet.
Anyone who wants to become an amateur filmmaker during quarantine will need to understand how upload speed works. While download speed is a measurement of how fast your network pulls information to you, upload speed measures how fast you can send information to the network.
If you tried out Speedtest on our recommendation, you probably noticed that your upload speed is much lower than your download speed. This is by design. Residential ISPs tend to cap upload speed at a lower number than download speed because, well, most people don’t have a need for it; it doesn’t really come into play for most daily tasks.
With all that in mind, there isn’t necessarily a hard minimum upload speed required to put things on YouTube. It’ll help to have double-digit upload speeds, for sure, but a number lower than that can still work for you. It just might take a long time to upload a lengthy HD video.
We hope your internet is able to meet (or ideally far exceed) all of the figures listed above during your time at home. You can’t go anywhere, so it would sure be a bummer if you couldn’t browse the web, play online games, or stream movies, too.
- The Year the Internet Thought I Was MacKenzie Bezos – WIRED
- Easy ways to get the fastest internet connection possible in your home – Komando
- Elon Musk says Starlink internet private beta to begin in roughly three months, public beta in six – TechCrunch
- Verizon is canceling home internet installations during the pandemic – The Verge
- Ethiopia’s internet shutdowns are disrupting millions of lives – Quartz Africa
- How to check if your service provider is throttling your internet – CNET
- 8 charts on internet use around the world as countries grapple with COVID-19 – Pew Research Center
- How to boost your home internet speeds while you’re stuck at home: Tech Support – Yahoo Money
- Welcome (Back) to the Appointment Internet – New York Magazine