What is a Good Internet Speed? | 2021 ISP

Adina Hamb

Table of Contents What Is a Good Internet Speed for Web Surfing?What Is a Good Internet Speed for Streaming Video?What Is a Good Internet Speed for Multiple Devices?What Is a Good Internet Speed for Working From Home?What Is a Good Internet Speed for Gaming?How Do I Check My Internet Speed?When […]

Popular Internet Service Providers

When shopping for internet service, you’ll want to look at a variety of factors, including price and speed. If you’re a gamer, regularly watch 4K video, or work or study from home, you’ll need higher internet speeds to keep up with the demand. Average users who need just enough speed for web browsing and email can get away with much less bandwidth.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that speeds of 3-8 megabits per second (Mbps) are just fine for the low-end user with one or two people in the household. Students and telecommuters require 5-25 Mbps, and higher-need internet users will want download speeds of at least 25 Mbps. Many internet providers can provide speeds of at least 25 Mbps, but in some rural areas with only satellite service available, that could be a challenge. In addition, most experts recommend speeds of at least 100 Mbps for households with multiple users who stream video or engage in other activities that require more bandwidth.

Light Use Moderate Use High Use
1 user on 1 device

Basic Service

Basic Service

Medium Service

2 users or devices at a time

Basic Service

Medium Service

Medium/Advanced Service

3 users or devices at a time

Medium Service

Medium Service

Advanced Service

4 users or devices at a time

Medium Service

Advanced Service

Advanced Service

Basic Service = 3 to 8 Mbps. Medium Service = 12 to 25 Mbps. Advanced Service = More than 25 Mbps. Mbps (Megabits per second) is the standard measure of broadband speed. It refers to the speed with which information packets are downloaded from, or uploaded to, the internet.*Speed usage data from FCC website.

Xfinity Internet »
Download Speed (Mbps) 15 Mbps – 2,000 Mbps
Upload Speed (Mbps) 1 Mbps – 1,000 Mbps
Data Cap Starting at 1.2 TB
Verizon Internet »
Download Speed (Mbps) 200 Mbps – 940 Mbps
Upload Speed (Mbps) 200 Mbps – 880 Mbps
Data Cap No Cap
AT&T Internet »
Download Speed (Mbps) 0.8 Mbps – 940 Mbps
Upload Speed (Mbps) 0.4 Mbps – 940 Mbps
Data Cap Starting at 1 TB
Spectrum Internet »
Download Speed (Mbps) 100 Mbps – 940 Mbps
Upload Speed (Mbps) 10 Mbps – 35 Mbps
Data Cap No Cap
Cox Internet »
Download Speed (Mbps) 10 Mbps – 1,000 Mbps
Upload Speed (Mbps) 1 Mbps – 1,000 Mbps
Data Cap Starting at 1.25 TB
Xfinity Internet » Company
15 Mbps – 2,000 Mbps Download Speed (Mbps)
1 Mbps – 1,000 Mbps Upload Speed (Mbps)
Starting at 1.2 TB Data Cap
Verizon Internet » Company
200 Mbps – 940 Mbps Download Speed (Mbps)
200 Mbps – 880 Mbps Upload Speed (Mbps)
No Cap Data Cap
AT&T Internet » Company
0.8 Mbps – 940 Mbps Download Speed (Mbps)
0.4 Mbps – 940 Mbps Upload Speed (Mbps)
Starting at 1 TB Data Cap
Spectrum Internet » Company
100 Mbps – 940 Mbps Download Speed (Mbps)
10 Mbps – 35 Mbps Upload Speed (Mbps)
No Cap Data Cap
Cox Internet » Company
10 Mbps – 1,000 Mbps Download Speed (Mbps)
1 Mbps – 1,000 Mbps Upload Speed (Mbps)
Starting at 1.25 TB Data Cap
RCN Internet » Company
25 Mbps – 940 Mbps Download Speed (Mbps)
N/A Upload Speed (Mbps)
N/A Data Cap
CenturyLink Internet » Company
10 Mbps – 940 Mbps Download Speed (Mbps)
10 Mbps – 940 Mbps Upload Speed (Mbps)
Starting at 1 TB Data Cap
Frontier Internet » Company
6 Mbps – 940 Mbps Download Speed (Mbps)
6 Mbps – 880 Mbps Upload Speed (Mbps)
No Cap Data Cap
Mediacom Internet » Company
60 Mbps – 1,000 Mbps Download Speed (Mbps)
5 Mbps – 50 Mbps Upload Speed (Mbps)
Starting at 400GB Data Cap
Viasat Internet » Company
12 Mbps – 100 Mbps Download Speed (Mbps)
3 Mbps Upload Speed (Mbps)
No Cap Data Cap
Optimum Internet » Company
10 Mbps – 940 Mbps Download Speed (Mbps)
1 Mbps – 940 Mbps Upload Speed (Mbps)
No Cap Data Cap

Overall, web surfing requires relatively little bandwidth, although a somewhat faster connection is required for videos.

When picking a plan with data upload and download speeds that match your needs, consider your day-to-day internet activities and choose accordingly. With some quick math, you can determine what you use; for instance, sending a text-only email uses only about 10 kilobytes (KB), according to Verizon Wireless. A typical web page might require 1 MB to load, audio streaming uses about 51 MB per hour, streaming standard-definition video uses 500 MB per hour, and streaming high-definition video uses up 1.6 GB per hour.

Users who buy less broadband capability than they need may end up disappointed with the result.

“Bandwidth is one of the two most important elements in computing these days, along with screen quality, since computational speeds are almost always more than enough for non-engineering tasks,” says Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., a web usability expert and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group. However, he says, “Most users still save on bandwidth and prefer a moderate bandwidth at a moderate price to the highest-speed, highest-cost option.”

Streaming video and videoconferencing require higher speeds. If these comprise a good percentage of your daily internet activities, you’ll need faster internet service with low latency. A provider with a fiber-optic connection is the fastest and most reliable choice, with cable a close second.

It’s best to know your typical use and be aware of any data caps on your plan so you don’t exceed them. This could force you to pay data overcharges, cause your ISP to “throttle” or slow your speeds, or both. Streaming one minute of standard-definition video uses 11.7 MB, high-definition video uses 41.7 MB, and 4K ultra HD video devours 97.5 MB, which is the equivalent of sending nealy 5,000 email messages.

Fiber internet service consistently offers low rates of data loss (less than 0.4 milliseconds) and the lowest latency to ensure minimal disruptions. Take a look at internet providers like Frontier, which has an average latency rate of 9 ms, or Verizon Fios, which registers 12 ms. That’s barely perceptible to the average user and even to a frequent gamer.

The FCC says the best ISPs for two or more connected devices and moderate to heavy internet use should offer at least 12 Mbps of download speed. For four or more devices, 25 Mbps is recommended. For two or more users who regularly stream high definition or 4K video, use videoconferencing, participate in online gaming, or work from home, a good internet speed of 12 to 25 Mbps makes the most sense. Homes with four or more people using four or more connected devices will certainly want download speeds of 25 Mbps or more. That said, most experts recommend even higher speeds – at least 100 Mbps – for households with heavy internet use.

Most ISPs deliver their promised broadband speed, says the FCC in its ninth Measuring Broadband America Fixed Broadband Report, released in December 2019. The report evaluates 17 different ISP/technology configurations and it states that out of these, only two performed below 90% for actual-to-advertised download speed.

Many plans on our Best Internet Providers of 2021 list offer incremental increases in cost for exponentially more speed. Xfinity, for example, has a 500 MB plan for $60-$70 per month. For only $10 more per month, you could have gigabit (1000 Mbps) downloads speeds and 35 Mbps uploads. That’s more than enough for the vast majority of families.

Working from home requires, at minimum, reliable internet service for email and a strong cellular signal or landline. It also often requires sharing large files and participating in videoconferences, both of which use considerable bandwidth.

Speedtest.net says videoconference platforms like Zoom and Google Meet only work well when connected to adequately fast internet. For its part, Zoom suggests download and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps for videoconferencing with multiple participants in high definition. Google support documentation offers similar recommendations.

When considering how much speed you need, beware that low promotional pricing may be for an ISP’s lowest speeds. Also make sure the download and upload speeds you actually get are the ones that you’re expecting, says the Federal Trade Commission. Actual transmission speeds depend on the type of application you’re using, the number of people using it at the same time, and more. ISPs with a fiber optic network, like Verizon Fios, AT&T, and others, are generally the fastest and most reliable. Fiber is followed by cable, and then other technologies like fixed wireless, DSL, and satellite internet.

Best Internet Providers for Gaming of 2021

Xfinity Internet »

4.3 out of 5

Monthly Cost $29.99 and Up
Connection Type Cable
Download Speed (Mbps) 15 Mbps – 2,000 Mbps
Latency 18
View Plans »
Xfinity Internet »

4.3 out of 5

Company

$29.99 and Up Monthly Cost
Cable Connection Type
15 Mbps – 2,000 Mbps Download Speed (Mbps)
18 Latency
View Plans »
Learn More

The Best Internet Service Provider for Gaming ranking is based on the lowest latency measurements. We used data from the Ninth Measuring Broadband America Fixed Broadband Report to determine which internet providers delivered the lowest latency.

Spectrum Internet promotion price is $49.99/mo for 12 months. Wireless speeds may vary.

Gamers need low latency, high download and upload speeds, and a generous data plan for the best experience. The best ISPs for gaming mitigate latency and include both super-fast speeds and substantial data plans.

Cable and fiber provider Xfinity says that most video game console manufacturers recommend at least 3 Mbps of download speed and 0.5 Mbps to 1 Mbps of upload speed. However, most avid gamers will want much higher speeds to compete effectively in online games that feature fast action and require equally fast reflexes. For example, AT&T recommends at least 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads, while Centurylink suggests at least 25 Mbps for downloads. To have the ultimate gaming experience, Xfinity recommends speed tiers with download speeds of 300 Mbps and above. Your download speed determines how fast your game information is pulled from the server, and upload speed determines how fast you push information back out to the server.

Gamers are also concerned with “ping”, or latency, which is the rate of response from your Internet connection to a request. Excessive latency can greatly reduce your competitiveness in online multiplayer games because it effectively increases your reaction time compared to your opponents’. For the best fast-paced gameplay experience, low latency is best.

Several speed-check websites offer one-click connection speed assessments for free, like Ookla Speedtest and Fast.com. Both are web-based services that can measure your connection’s latency, download speeds, and upload speeds from a remote server. Some ISPs have their own speed-check pages as well, like AT&T and Xfinity.

Before conducting your test, which will reveal a result in seconds, make sure no one on the network is downloading large files, streaming, videoconferencing, gaming, or the like. You’ll want to know what your network is doing on an average day during a lull so you don’t skew your results. Then compare your tested speed to the advertised speed from your ISP. Different times of the day and days of the week will show much different speeds, so consider cross-checking and taking an average.

Where you live, the time of day you’re using the internet, how many people live in your home, and what kinds of services they use all determine your internet speed. Your speeds may be slower on busy weekdays, just like rush hour on a highway – the more users there are, the heavier the congestion. If you imagine a road with a giant semi truck representing heavy internet users and a small car representing light users, you can picture the way bottlenecks happen.

“Data caps have emerged in recent years as a way for Internet providers to police bandwidth usage on their networks,” says Tyler Cooper of BroadbandNow.com. “Rather than letting everyone use the ‘pipe’ as much as they want, the broadband industry in the U.S. seems to be moving towards a ‘pay as you go’ model where customers who use more data than others will have to pay extra for it.”

Schools, for example, must manage the number of users on the network, as do company owners and households.

“Every new user you add to an internet connection places additional strain on the connection, potentially slowing it down,” says McKetta. “This is true if you’re a school administrator trying to support multiple teachers streaming from one building. It’s also true if you’re a parent trying to set up multiple remote classrooms in addition to a remote office for yourself.”

Finally, many ISPs have “soft” data caps, which means your speed is slowed when the cap is exceeded. A few have “hard” data caps for which you’ll owe money when it’s exceeded. Verizon Fios, Spectrum, and Frontier have no data caps.

The FCC defines high-speed internet, or broadband, as offering a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps and a minimum upload speed of 3 Mbps. That may be fine for most users, but if you want the best possible internet experience, you’ll need more speed.

Of course, if you’re not on the highest-speed, most expensive plan with your ISP, there’s room for more bandwidth. Find out from your provider what upgrade options you have, and ask about special deals.

Wi-Fi in general does slow down your connection because of the limitations inherent in wireless technology, so for the fastest speeds, use an ethernet cable.

You might also consider upgrading your hardware. For instance, purchase a router that supports newer Wi-Fi standards. Beware of Wi-Fi extenders, because they are notorious for slowing down connections. With an extender, everything you transmit over your network must be sent multiple times. McKetta recommends using a Wi-Fi mesh system instead that can more intelligently select channels and route traffic.

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We explain what matters when it comes to internet service by sourcing experts and professional reviewers. Then we provide an unbiased evaluation of internet service providers. Our goal is to empower consumers with the information and tools they need to make informed decisions. More information about our 360 Reviews methodology for evaluating internet service providers is here.

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