Why Internet Speed Is More Important Than You Think

A big part of a pleasant online experience is having adequate Internet speed. The speed of your Internet enables you to enjoy the Internet without hiccups. When you sign up for Internet service with a new provider, they typically give you an array of packages to choose from, all offering a variety of Internet speeds.

While most customers focus on the price of the service or other services associated with the package, often, customers overlook the different speeds that their provider is offering and suddenly find themselves with an Internet speed that is not up to par with their needs at home. Think about all the ways in which you use the Internet—whether it’s for work, school, gaming, or streaming—without proper speed, you can only accomplish so much. 

Anything that you ever do online requires a certain number of megabits per second (Mbps) for uploads and downloads to run smoothly and without interruptions. Because of this, the number of Mbps is extremely important for choosing the Internet plan that’ll best be able to handle multiple devices and users.

Once you’ve established the correct Internet speed for your needs, it’s important to run speed tests periodically so that you can make sure that the speed that you’re paying for is exactly what you’re getting. In the United States, a good Internet connection isn’t exactly cheap. And in fact, compared to other nations around the world, Internet services in the United States are much slower; yet we pay the same as people in Asia or Europe, who enjoy much faster broadband services.

Infographic: The Best & Worst Places for Internet Quality | Statista

Source: Statista

Depending on the Internet service that you have available in your area, the Internet speed the provider can offer might not be what you’re expecting. Certain parts of the United States, specifically small towns and cities in remote areas, don’t have enough infrastructure in the vicinity to handle the demands of a high-speed Internet connection. People living in those areas have to settle for Internet services that can never catch up to the Internet speed of a fiber or cable connection.

Finding the right balance in a service plan that can offer you both the right price and the ideal Internet speed can be a lot of work at first, but once you do, the benefits of enjoying a good online experience outweigh any trouble you might have gone through. Here’s everything you need to know about Internet speed and why it’s more important than you think. 

How Is Internet Speed Measured?

One of the first things to understand about Internet speed is how it’s measured. Understanding the measurement of speed will allow you to make educated decisions about choosing a plan that has enough capacity to handle the load of devices, activities, and users in your home. 

You can measure Internet speed with megabits per second, or Mbps. This is the breakdown.

  • 1 Kbps (kilobits per second) = 1,000 bits per second
  • 1 Mbps (megabits per second) = 1 million bits per second
  • 1 Gbps (gigabits per second) = 1 billion bits per second

To put the measurements in perspective, think about how slow a dial-up connection is. A typical dial-up connection will only be able to give you a speed of about 56Kbps, which comes out to .056Mbps—a very slow connection that is not capable of modern online tasks like streaming or gaming and can barely handle email. 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set up a minimum speed standard for fixed services that will ensure all Internet users have an Internet connection that’s reliable, speedy, and functional. Their minimum speed requirements are at least 25Mbps for downloads and 3Mbps for uploads. 

An Internet speed of 25Mbps allows you to stream movies and shows on platforms like Netflix or Hulu, play most online games without experiencing latency, and have almost zero wait time to load web pages. The tricky part with minimum speeds like these is that once you add more users and devices to the connection, a speed of 25Mbps won’t be as efficient and you will start experiencing issues with connectivity and latency. 

Why Are Download and Upload Speeds Important?

Now that you have a better understanding of how Internet service providers measure speed, it’s also important to understand why download and upload speeds play a big role in the overall efficiency of your broadband connection. 

You’ll notice that when you’re looking at the different Internet plans your provider offers, that there is a focus on the speeds for downloads, as they’re often much higher in Mbps than the speeds for uploads. That’s because, as a user, you end up downloading more data than you upload. 

  • Download speeds refer to how fast your connection can retrieve information (data) from an online source and into your screen. The reason Internet service providers focus so much more on the speed of downloads is that users engage more in activities that require a fast download speed, like streaming movies, receiving emails, or downloading music.
  • Upload speeds have to do more with the rate at which your connection can send data from your device, whether it’s a computer or cellphone, to the Internet. Common examples of activities that require a good upload speed are sending emails and uploading photos to social media. 

The FCC has guidelines for what the minimum speed should be for downloads and uploads, however, this doesn’t factor in the number of devices that you connect at a time or the number of users that are using the connection. The FCC guidelines base themselves on individual households that have, at most, two people living together. Yet, since 2010, the average household in the United States has at least three people in it, which means there are more devices and users connected at the same time.

If your household has more than two people in it, a download speed that’s over 50Mbps will benefit you more. Anything under that won’t be as efficient and it will cause delays with online tasks that require a faster download speed. For example, if someone in your household is trying to watch a movie on a streaming platform, while someone else is playing an online, multiplayer video game, and a third person is downloading music into their device, chances are that everyone will experience latency and a lack of response from a strained connection. 

How to Test Your Internet Speed

The recommended way to test your Internet speed at home is to run a speed test. Speed tests work by measuring how fast your connection can upload and download data in one session. The way they do this is by mimicking what the average user’s online activities are on a day-to-day basis. The program will download and upload sample files for a certain amount of time and record speeds.

Keep in mind that the results of a speed test are not an exact measurement of the speed of your Internet, but an overall guide that gives you an idea of where your speeds fall. This is important because it’ll give you an idea as to how the speed may be affecting your online experience. It’s key to run speed tests a few times over the course of a few days so that you can try to get the most accurate picture of how the speed is performing when there are multiple users and devices connected at the same time. 

  • If you’re planning on running a speed test on your home computer, before you do anything, make sure that you close any background applications that could negatively affect your speed test results, like Spotify or Netflix.
  • Most speed tests are user-friendly and you can find them online by performing a simple Google search. If you’re unsure about which one to choose, look at reviews from other users and see which one seems like the best fit. Other users that have used the program will be the best judges as to its efficiency.
  • Once the speed test begins, your computer will attempt to download a file from the test server and it will measure how fast it’s able to do it. The same thing will happen when it attempts to upload a file. Once the computer has downloaded and uploaded test files, the program will calculate the speed of both and provide you with results based on the test. 

How to Interpret Speed Test Results

Before you sit down to look at the results of the test, it’s important to first look at what the speeds are supposed to be based on your plan with your Internet service provider. The upload and download speeds should be pretty close to what your Internet service provider advertises in your plan. If they’re not, there could be a few reasons why.

  1. Too Many Users and Devices
    Remember that your Internet speed varies depending on the size of your household and the number of devices that connect at the same time. Even if you close background applications before running the speed test, if there were multiple people using the Internet at the same time, the results of the test won’t be as accurate.
  2. Too Far From Router
    If you’re testing your speed while using a wireless router, results can vary depending on how close you’re sitting to the router. Wireless routers are sensitive to distance and objects that can block their path. Make sure that you’re close to the router for the most accurate results during the test.
  3. ISP Throttling
    As much as you want to trust that your Internet service provider is being transparent with you about charges and a lack of data caps, a consistent slow Internet connection could mean your provider is throttling your service. A lot of providers advertise they don’t have data caps, which means that you have no limits as to the number of websites you can visit or the number of hours spent streaming. However, certain providers will slow down their customers’ Internet connection once they reach data caps that they’re not even aware they have. While this is not always the case, it certainly happens. Therefore, it’s important to run the speed tests over several days to make sure you’re getting the most accurate average. 

Statistic: Household internet download speed of adults in the United States as of June 2020 | Statista
Source: Statista

The speed of your Internet connection directly correlates with your online experience. While there are many factors to consider when you’re checking how fast your Internet is and the reasoning behind the results, being proactive about checking Internet speeds will benefit you in the long run and will help you understand why Internet speeds are so important.