Netflix has very clear recommendations for speed based on the quality of video you want.1 Just know that the speeds listed are for streaming on a single device, so if multiple devices on your network are watching Netflix at the same time, you need enough speed to handle all those streams at once.
Some types of internet connections can experience slowdown at peak-use hours. Fast internet connections also need fast Wi-Fi routers that can handle multiple devices streaming at the same time. Watching a movie on Netflix uses more bandwidth than surfing the web, Voice over IP, or even online gaming. As such, one of the most basic reasons to upgrade your internet service is to make sure that the video you stream has a crisp, clear picture and buttery-smooth playback.
You may want to upgrade your download speed plan to make sure your signal is strong enough to get good Wi-Fi for streaming if you work from home or have friends over to watch movies often so there is enough for every device and person.
And if your internet speed seems slow only when you stream movies, you should look into getting a Roku or another dedicated streaming device. That way, high-definition video streams won't have to buffer because of other apps.
The average internet speed across the nation is around 100 Mbps, but some fiber internet providers have built networks that can reach up to 1 gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) or more. They even offer symmetrical internet speeds where your upload speed matches your download speed.
You can check your current internet speeds using a speed test to see if you have good Internet and Wi-Fi for streaming. If your speed test results don't look as fast as what you need, see if you can get a deal on upgrading your download speed. Or check out our recommendations for the best internet service providers.
To avoid problems with low quality, slow loading, and buffering, and to meet the speed requirements of the services you want access to, choose the fastest internet speed available in your area that you can afford.
If your internet seems slow, it's time to make sure you're getting the speed you need, both from your internet service provider and the WiFi setup in your home. But the first step is to have a realistic idea of how much broadband you need.
Broadband speeds are expressed in megabits per second (Mbps), or how much data travels to your home each second. A typical email contains barely any data, and the bit rate doesn't really matter. A 4K video consists of tons of data, and you need decent broadband to stream it. You can see the bit rates needed to stream a few types of entertainment in the chart below. ("Kbps" indicates kilobits per second.)
Netflix and other streaming companies say your internet service needs to run at least 5 Mbps for streaming high-definition shows and movies, but that's sufficient for only one user at a time. As you can see from the chart above, 18 Mbps is really the minimum speed most homes will need for streaming 4K movies and TV shows from Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. (Netflix recommends a 25 Mbps speed for streaming 4K, while Amazon says you'll need at least 15 Mbps for the highest-quality video.)
The good news is that networks are getting faster. The average download speed in the U.S. jumped 35 percent last year, topping 95 Mbps, according to Ookla. That's the company behind Speedtest, a tool consumers can use to measure their home's internet speed. Fast download speed is critical for watching streaming movies and TV shows at home.
You can check your speed using Speedtest or another website. Space out the tests over a few days, and at varying times of day, to get an accurate measure of how consistent those speeds will be. You want to make sure your ISP is providing the speed you're paying for and that it's fast enough for your needs. If not, call your ISP to ask why your speed is slower than promised or to ask about upgrading to a faster tier of service.
Assuming the broadband speed coming into your home is satisfactory, there are other reasons you may be experiencing slow service. One culprit might be an older modem or router. Most of us now connect several devices to our network using WiFi, so wireless gear that was fine a few years ago might no longer be up to snuff.
"The new standard brings higher speeds, especially in situations where lots of users are online at the same time," says Rich Fisco, who leads router testing at Consumer Reports. However, devices such as laptops and tablets can't take advantage of those capabilities yet. So, he says, "There's no need to worry about it for a couple of years."
If you think your wireless connection is to blame, try using a wired connection to see whether performance improves. Another way to isolate WiFi problems is to connect your computer directly to a speed-test site before the connection reaches your WiFi router and compare it to the speed you get connecting via WiFi.
Most home Internet service delivers faster speeds for downloading vs. uploading, due to average consumer needs. For example, the data speeds needed to download an HD movie are much greater than the speeds needed to load a link in a web browser. However, gigabit service over a fiber-optic network can deliver the same speeds uploading as downloading, or the same "upload" speed and "download" speed.
Gigabit service can also be transmitted over traditional cable wiring, which does not require a fiber-optic line (or "fiber internet") running to your house. Xfinity Gigabit Internet Service, which uses the DOCSIS 3.1 standard, can download data up to 1 Gbps, and upload data at 35 Mbps.
Do you stream your favorite TV shows, movies, music, or video games? If not, you might be in the minority these days. With the widespread availability of faster internet speeds, more people stream the content they watch, listen to, and play these days than do not.
Streaming puts the power to choose entertainment on your terms instead of relying on a cable TV service or renting a movie or game. However, to stream content effectively to the devices you have in your home, one key factor must be assessed: your internet speed. This guide provides a closer look at how bandwidth and speed matter when streaming content, what rates you may need for streaming through different platforms, and more valuable insight into streaming.
To stream content, you need an internet-connected device, such as a TV, smartphone, or tablet, and access to a streaming platform or app. For example, if you want to stream movies, you need a TV that connects to the internet and a streaming platform like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, or Disney Plus.
In general, streaming will require a certain level of bandwidth from your internet connection and a certain speed to support the quality of the content. Certain activities, like listening to music without video or watching standard-definition (SD) video require less bandwidth and speed than something like streaming games or watching a high-resolution video in 4K quality.
In terms of the internet, bandwidth refers to the rate at which data is transferred. The abbreviation Mbps (megabits per second) is used in reference to the actual rate at which the data is transferred. Internet speeds are often displayed by internet service providers (ISPs) in terms of upload and download speeds. Download speeds are significant when streaming, but upload speeds can be critical when data is being sent, such as with gaming.
When you are streaming content, the speed at which data is sent across the connection determines the quality of what you are experiencing. For example, if you have a very low internet speed and you are trying to stream a movie, you may have lower picture quality, problems with lagging and freezing, or an inability to play the stream at all. By contrast, a high-speed internet connection allows data to be transferred rapidly, which may mean clearer picture quality, no issues with lagging or freezing, and seamless transitions from one piece of streamed content to the next.
The internet speed necessary for streaming largely depends on the streaming platform, the type of content you are streaming, and the quality of the content being streamed. Here are the internet speed requirements to use some of the most popular content-streaming platforms:
Spotify offers music and video streaming, both of which have different speed requirements. For standard music streaming, you need at least 384Kbps (kilobits per second, which equates to just over 0.33Mbps), while lossless quality requires at least 2Mbps. For video streaming, you will need between 0.5 and 1Mbps for SD and between 3 and 5Mbps for high-definition streaming (HD).
Netflix recommends different download speeds depending on content quality. For SD quality, 1Mbps will work, but Netflix notes that a faster connection will mean improved video quality. HD streaming requires between 3 and 5Mbps, and 4K/Ultra HD (UHD) requires 15Mbps.
Twitch offers a combination of interactive live streaming options, including gaming, music, and standard video. Twitch recommends between 3 and 6Mbps, depending on the preferred video quality. For example, if you want video quality in 1080p at 60 frames per second (fps) for gaming, you would likely need 6Mbps of internet speed.
Amazon Prime Video recommends a download speed of at least 1Mbps for streaming, which will work for SD content. For HD content, you may need up to 5Mbps or 4K Ultra HD, you need up to 15Mbps. Prime Video is also said to automatically adjust video quality based on the bandwidth you have available at any given time.
For basic video streaming on YouTube, you only need an internet connection with .5Mbps. However, to stream movies and TV shows, you will need different sustained speeds depending on the preferred video resolution. For SD, you will need between 0.7 and 1.1Mbps, whereas you will need between 2.5 and 5Mbps for HD, and for 4K streaming, YouTube recommends at least 20Mbps. To watch live streams, higher speeds are recommended, but the quality will automatically adjust according to the available bandwidth. 2b1af7f3a8