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How Much Internet Speed Do You Need?

If you’ve ever had to set up the Internet in a new home or apartment, you know it can be a bit of a confusing process. First, you have to choose a provider. Then, you have to determine how much Internet speed you need to support your lifestyle. You don’t want to pay for more than you’ll need, but you also don’t want to get the cheapest plan to save money and find yourself unable to do anything.

To help you decide, we’ve broken down everything you need to know to figure out how fast your home Internet should be.

Step 1: Know the Terminology

To decide how much Internet speed you need, you first need to understand a few basic terms and concepts.

  • Bandwidth: the measurement of how much data is being transmitted over your Internet connection at a given time, typically measured in megabits (Mbps)
  • Internet Speed: the rate at which data is transmitted over your Internet connection, typically measured in megabits per second (Mbps/s)
  • Upload Speed: the pace of your Internet connection for uploading activities like file-sharing, data backup, and livestreaming, which require more bandwidth and are usually slower than downloading activities
  • Download Speed: the pace of your Internet connection for downloading activities like video streaming, music streaming, and downloading files, which require less bandwidth and are usually faster than uploading activities
  • Modem: the device that connects your home network as a whole to the Internet; this can be bought individually or as a modem/router combo
  • Router: the device that connects your various devices to your Internet connection and to each other; this can be bought individually or as a modem/router combo

Step 2: Choose an Internet Type

In addition to bandwidth and speed, Internet connections also vary by type. The three main Internet types are cable, fiber-optic, and satellite.

If having a fast Internet connection is important to you for work, gaming, or streaming or you simply prefer quicker page loads, you should stick with a cable or, if it’s available in your area, fiber-optic service. Satellite Internet tends to be slower because information takes longer to travel between the device and the satellite, so you’re more likely to see long buffer times and greater lag.

internet speeds printable mockup

Step 3: Take an Inventory

Next, take an inventory of all of your Web-connected devices. Count up your laptops, smartphones, and tablets, as well as any entertainment equipment, including smart TVs and gaming systems. Don’t forget to include any smart technology you have in your home, like Wi-Fi-connected thermometers or home assistants.

Printable: Home Device Inventory

Step 4: Count Bandwidth Requirements

Once you have a list of your devices, figure out how many megabits per second each one requires. We’ve broken down minimum and recommended speeds below.

Internet Speeds By Activity

Individual smart home devices don’t require all that much Internet speed. But once you have multiple devices on your network, you’ll need to start counting them up. For smart devices that don’t incorporate video, a good rule of thumb is that you’ll need an extra 5 Mbps for every 10 or so smart home devices.

For things like doorbell cams, camera-connected security systems, and other smart devices that incorporate video, you’ll want to add 10 Mbps per device.

how much internet does my smart phone need 1

Step 5: Weigh Financial Considerations

The calculations above will give you an ideal Internet speed for your online activity. However, higher Internet speeds will cost more, so you’ll also need to weigh your priorities against your budget to see what you’re willing to spend on connectivity.

In most well-connected areas, you can usually find Internet connections of up to 100 Mbps for around $50 per month. If you live in a more rural area, starting prices will likely be higher and starting speeds will likely be lower.

Faster Internet costs more. How much more depends on your provider, your zip code, and the type of Internet you choose. If you can live with less than 100 Mbps, you may be able to find basic or discount packages for less than $50. Again, availability of these packages depends heavily on where you live.

Average American Household Internet Cost
Source: Leichtman Resource Group

How to Pay Less for Internet

Though specific costs vary by situation, here are a few tips and tricks you can use to lower your Internet bill:

  • Lower Your Internet Speed. If you calculate your needs and find you purchased more speed than you need, call up your provider and downgrade to a cheaper plan.
  • Buy Your Own Router and Modem. Many providers will “rent” a modem or router to you for a monthly fee added to your bill. This can become expensive quickly. By comparison, you can purchase a modem/router combo for a one-time cost of $50 to $100.
  • Bundle Your TV and Internet. If you don’t want or use TV, packages like these can be expensive. But if you do use multiple services in your home, you can often save by bundling them together with the same provider.
  • Negotiate a Retention Deal. When your contract is about to expire, call up your provider and see if they’re willing to offer you a re-signing deal. Call competitors and see if they will offer you a deal to win your business. Use these negotiation tactics.

Final Thoughts

Before you commit to purchasing an Internet package, be sure to also consider how important reliability is to you. For example, if you use video calling for meetings with colleagues, you’ll need more confidence in your connection than someone who uses video calling to touch base with loved ones.

Ask yourself what will happen if your Internet connection falters. If your worst-case scenario is a minor inconvenience, you can proceed confidently without an Internet speed safety net. If you work from home, you likely already concluded you need more Internet speed because you’ll be performing higher-bandwidth tasks. But if you’re on the fence between speed categories and your Internet’s reliability is very important to you, you’ll likely benefit from opting for the higher of two packages.

Amanda Pell
Amanda is a writer and content strategist who built her career writing on campaigns for brands like Nature Valley, Disney, and the NFL. She now specializes in personal finance and wealth management content, covering everything from retirement strategies to estate planning to credit card bonuses and beyond. When she's not knee-deep in trends research, you'll likely find her hiking with her dog or with her nose in a good book.

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