- A “good” internet speed usually runs at least 25 megabits per second, but it really depends on what you use the internet for.
- The best ways to increase your internet speed are to buy your router instead of renting it, place it in a central location, and upgrade to a fiber connection if possible.
- Try to upgrade your internet hardware at least once every three years to stay at the highest internet speeds.
These days, it seems like everything is connected to the internet. Your phone, your TV, even your toaster use Wi-Fi. And while these devices can be fun and convenient, they’ll also cause trouble if your internet isn’t fast enough to support everything.
So what’s a “good” internet speed? And how much money should you expect to pay for a decent internet setup? Here’s a detailed guide to internet speeds, including tips on how to increase speeds without upgrading.
What makes a good internet speed
In general, you can measure internet speed in two ways: Bandwidth and latency.
Bandwidth measures how much data can travel through your network at once, and is typically measured in megabits per second or “Mbps.” The more bandwidth you have, the more data you can upload and download at once. Think of it like a highway — the more lanes you have, the more traffic can pass through without a jam.
Latency (also sometimes called “ping”) measures how long it takes for data to pass from one point to another. It’s measured in milliseconds (ms), and the faster it is, the faster websites and apps will respond when you click a button or ask for new information. This is especially important when streaming movies, or in games like League of Legends where every click sends new data.
Joseph Stornelli, CEO of the cloud computing company Arium, tells Insider that most consumers don’t think about latency when shopping for internet plans, but it’s still “vital” when measuring the strength of your connection.
The best internet speeds have high bandwidth and low latency, meaning that you can transfer a lot of data at once at high speeds.
What’s a good internet speed for me?
Ask a hundred people what a good internet speed is, and you’ll get a hundred answers. This is because there isn’t any one perfect internet speed — how much speed you need depends on what you use the internet for, and how many devices you have.
For example, checking your email takes up much less bandwidth (in other words, needs less speed) than downloading files or streaming a video.
And remember that every device using the same internet connection shares the same bandwidth and latency. If you’re using a cable connection, you’re also sharing the road with everyone who lives around you too. So the more devices you have, the less room each device has on the internet highway.
Most people in the United States have cable internet, with speeds ranging from 10 Mbps to 25 Mbps.
Here are the speeds you should look for, based on how you use the internet.
When looking at this chart, don’t just think about what you do most of the time. Consider your peak — think about what the most internet-intensive thing you do is, and plan around that. After all, even if you only watch one movie per week, you don’t want that one movie taking hours just to load.
This includes the other people in your household too. Maybe you only use the internet to check the news, but is your son streaming Netflix and playing video games at the same time?
Sandeep Harpalani, the Vice President of Product Management at NETGEAR, also reminds consumers to think about how many internet-connected devices they have. Game consoles, phones, computers, and streaming sticks can still use bandwidth even when not in active use. And do you plan on buying another laptop or console in the future? That means you’ll need more bandwidth.
How to pick the right internet plan
There are dozens of internet service providers (ISPs) out there, all in a race to earn your money. Here are some tips on how to navigate the marketplace.
First, you’ll want to decide what type of internet you need. There are generally four types: DSL, Cable, Satellite, and Fiber.
DSL (direct subscriber line) is the cheapest of the four. It runs through your phone line, and tends to be pretty stable. The farther away you are from your ISP’s data center, though, the spottier the quality gets. With DSL, you can expect speeds between 5 Mbps and 50 Mbps.
Cable is the most common internet type in the United States, and most providers will offer to bundle it with TV and phone services. It’s more stable than DSL and less affected by distance, and usually gives speeds between 5 Mbps and 100 Mbps. But providers will often require you to sign multi-year contracts, which can be an issue if you end up disliking the service. And Cable also requires you to share bandwidth with people living around you, meaning slower speeds in more crowded areas.
Satellite is the slowest of the four. It requires you to keep a satellite dish on your property, and usually delivers between 3 Mbps and 20 Mbps. It’s also heavily affected by local weather conditions. But if you live in an area where other internet options aren’t available, it can get you connected.
Fiber (sometimes called FiOS) is the newest type of internet service, and by far the fastest. Most fiber connections will deliver between 300 Mbps and 1000 Mbps (sometimes called a “gigabit connection”), and service almost never cuts out. But it’s available in less places than any other internet type — even users in big cities might be out of range.
Every expert we spoke to agreed that if it’s available where you live and affordable, you want a fiber connection. It’s faster than any other type of connection, more stable, and doesn’t cost that much more. Stornelli notes that businesses especially should look into fiber.
But if you can’t get fiber, a cable connection is the next best thing.
Check out the internet providers in your area and see what they offer. If you find an internet plan that matches your needs, contact them and ask for more information.
Pitfalls to avoid
ISPs are trying to sell you a product, and won’t always give you the full details. When shopping for a new internet plan, be skeptical and prepared to ask questions.
Firstly, find out what the ISP’s “maximum speeds” are, says Harpalani. “Even if you don’t want to go to the highest [service] tier, you still want to know what you can upgrade to.” If their maximum speeds are just barely enough for you now, that’s a sign that they can’t support you in the long-term.
Stornelli says this also means that if the company gives you an introductory offer, you need to look ahead and check if your speeds will drop once that offer is over, and what it will eventually cost.
He also stresses that companies rarely (if ever) promise a latency. Better bandwidth usually comes with better latency, but you’ll need to press them on this, and figure out what sort of latency you should expect for each service tier.
Make sure you pay attention to the small fees, like those for renting a router or having someone over to install the equipment. Also avoid plans that charge you fees for using too much data. And if you can, avoid getting stuck in a contract — keep the “flexibility to leave,” says Harpalani.
Once you’ve signed up for a plan, run regular speed tests to make sure that it’s running as fast as you expected. If your internet is consistently slower than what you’re paying for, it’s time to complain to the ISP.
Finding the right internet equipment
Finding the right ISP is “a good first step,” says Harpalani, “but looking at your equipment is just as important.” It’s also something you have a lot more control over.
No matter what type of internet you’re using, you’ll need a modem. This is the device that converts internet signals into a form that computers can understand.
If you plan on using Wi-Fi, or have more than one device to connect, you’ll also need a router. This device broadcasts Wi-Fi signals, allowing devices to access the internet without a physical wired connection.
For the fastest internet speeds, make sure of three things:
- You own your equipment instead of renting it from the ISP
- You have a separate modem and router, not a single combination device
- If you can connect a device using an Ethernet cable, do it
Renting devices from your ISP can mean slower speeds and extra fees. And if you ever want to upgrade what they’ve sent you, most ISPs require you to justify why you need an upgrade, and reserve the right to decline the request. And even if they do send you new equipment, there’s no guarantee that it’s not pre-owned or refurbished.
However, renting does come with a few upsides. If you ever have issues with your rented router or modem, you can usually call the ISP for customer support. They’re also more willing to exchange the equipment if it’s defective.
Router-modem combos are convenient, but tend to run slower than separate devices. And wired Ethernet connections are exponentially faster than Wi-Fi.
Those are the basic tips. But if you have a big home, a small one with thick signal-killing walls, or just want the absolute fastest Wi-Fi speeds possible, consider investing in a mesh network.
Mesh networks are fully wireless networks that allow you to spread a stable Wi-Fi signal throughout your entire home. Every mesh “node” broadcasts just as strongly as any other, making it an amazing way to stamp out dead zones.
The downside is that mesh networks are more expensive than regular routers. While a good router will cost you around $100, a mesh setup will cost at least $200.
No matter which option you choose, check out the specs before buying. Any reliable modem, router, or node will tell you how much bandwidth it can support — be sure to buy equipment that can support more than you actually have.
You should also check that your equipment can support “Wi-Fi 6,” the newest Wi-Fi standard. Wi-Fi 6 devices have the lowest latency around, and shouldn’t be any more expensive than non-compatible models.
When should I upgrade my internet equipment?
Internet technology is constantly evolving. A device that was top of the line last year could be obsolete tomorrow.
When asked how often consumers should upgrade their modems and routers, Harpalani gave a rough estimate: You should try to upgrade your equipment at least once every three years.
This isn’t necessarily because the equipment you have is bad or broken. Rather, upgrading that often means you won’t fall behind on new Wi-Fi standards and features. It’s the best way to make sure you always have the best internet speeds.
How to get faster internet speeds without upgrading
Considering how expensive internet equipment can be, even three years might be too soon for some people. Luckily, there are lots of ways to squeeze faster speeds out of the equipment you already have.
One of the most underrated ways to speed up your Wi-Fi, Stornelli said, is to move your router or nodes to a better location. Make sure it’s as centrally located as possible, not in the corner of the house or pressed up against a wall. You’ll also want to keep it at least four feet off the ground and in an open space, away from other electronic devices.
Ethernet connections are always faster than Wi-Fi. If you can connect your computer or console to Ethernet, do it.
If you’re using a very old or buggy computer that can’t load data that fast, your internet speeds will drop. Upgrade your computer or scan for viruses — certain types of malware, like bitcoin miners, can clog up your bandwidth.
Finally, put less stress on your internet connection. Using less apps at once, watching videos at a lower quality, and turning off devices when you’re not using them are all great ways to reduce internet usage. And freeing up that bandwidth will let your most important data travel even quicker.
Devon Delfino contributed to a previous version of this article.