Your Ultimate Guide to Internet Speed: Everything You Need to Know

Your internet speed is one of the most important aspects of your home network. Not everyone needs the fastest internet speed around, but it’s still important to have enough bandwidth to meet your household needs.

At HighSpeedInternet.com, we spend a lot of time focused on internet speed—it’s literally in our name, after all. We know all the facts on how internet speed works and why it matters, so read on to have all your questions answered.

Test and track your internet speed on your phone

Download our free, easy-to-use speed test app for quick and reliable results.

First things first—How do you check your internet speed?

Take our speed test to check your internet speed. The quick test gives you a full readout of your download speed, upload speed, and latency—maybe it’s time for an upgrade?

 

 

 

 

Find out your internet speed, find fast internet providers, and more

We have tons of pages on our site devoted to all things internet speed. We’ve compiled the most important pieces here to help you find what you’re looking for.

Take a speed testTake our speed test to see how much bandwidth you have.Take Speed Test
Understand your speed testLearn how to read speed test results, including the meaning of “Mbps” and “latency.”Understand Internet Speed
Improve your speedFind ways to improve your internet connection, from simple fixes to big upgrades.Improve Internet Speed
Know why your speed is slowUnderstand common factors that slow your internet down.Troubleshoot Slow Internet
See fastest internet providersFind out which internet service providers deliver the fastest-possible speeds.View Providers

What is internet speed?

Internet speed is the measure of how much time it takes a certain amount of data to transfer from a server to your device and vice versa.

Whether you’re streaming videos on Netflix, posting on Twitter, or attending a Zoom meeting, you’re using your device to download and upload packets of data. The rate at which you can transfer all of this data depends on your internet connection’s bandwidth, measured in Mbps.

On a home Wi-Fi network, your internet provider determines your internet speed. What you can get depends on the provider’s technical capabilities and how much you’re willing to pay for higher speeds. Naturally, faster connections come with a higher monthly bill in most cases.

Find fast internet

Search your zip code below to see which internet providers operate in your area. Hopefully you can find top-speed Wi-Fi.

Why is internet speed important?

Internet speed matters because it sets the parameters for what you can do online. Internet service providers sell plans that range anywhere from less than 1 Mbps (incredibly slow) to 5,000 Mbps (insanely fast), but most netizens would be happy with 100 Mbps download speeds.

Having a sufficiently fast internet speed makes it easier to do high-bandwidth activities (like streaming in 4K or downloading a large video game file) without worrying about long load times, buffering, or a dropped connection.

Fast internet also ensures you can multitask over Wi-Fi on the same device or use multiple Wi-Fi devices at the same time. In that way, a faster internet connection isn’t just about speed—it’s also about capacity. More bandwidth can efficiently support a variety of users and tasks at the same time.

Benefits of high-speed internet:

  • Quick downloads
  • Fast load times
  • Lower chance of buffering or dropped connections
  • Smoother connection on Zoom calls and livestreams
  • Better support for multiple users on the same Wi-Fi network

Think of having fast internet as using a pickup truck or SUV instead of a two-door sedan when you’re moving to a new apartment. With a larger vehicle, you can move more stuff to your place in fewer trips, saving you time and energy.

What is the best internet speed for you?

Use our “How Much Internet Speed Do I Need?” tool to figure out the best internet speed for you, based on what you do online and how many people you share Wi-Fi with.

 

 

 

How much internet speed do you need?

Internet speedWhat you can do
0–5 Mbps● Send emails
● Search Google
● Stream in HD on a single device
5–40 Mbps● Stream in HD on a few devices
●Play online games
● Run 1–2 smart devices
40–100 Mbps● Stream in 4K on 2–4 devices
● Play online games with multiple players
● Download big files quickly (500 MB to 2 GB)
● Run 3–5 smart devices
100–500 Mbps● Stream in 4K on 5+ devices
● Download very big files very quickly (2–30 GB)
● Run 5+ smart devices
500–1,000+ Mbps● Stream in 4K on 10+ devices
● Download and upload gigabyte-plus–sized files at top speed
● Run 10 or more smart-home devices in your abode
● Do basically anything on multiple devices with no slowdowns

Most people need an internet speed of at least 25 Mbps, while 100 Mbps is ideal for a mid-sized household. That’s enough to let four or five Wi-Fi users play online games, stream video in HD, and attend Zoom meetings with minimal slowdowns or buffering.

Of course, different households can have drastically different internet needs. Someone who lives alone and uses the internet for only small things like social media and web browsing doesn’t need as much internet speed as a family of five streaming Netflix in every room. But a faster connection is often better, especially if you spend a lot of time on the internet or share Wi-Fi with multiple users (or both).

No matter what your situation is, it’s important to have an adequate internet speed to meet your daily online needs—and the needs of everyone else using your Wi-Fi. Use our “How Much Internet Speed Do I Need?” tool to figure out what the best bandwidth is for you.

How is internet speed measured?

Internet speeds are measured in bits per second. A bit (short for binary digit) is the most basic unit of digital data. Internet service providers (ISPs) usually advertise their services using three metric bit measurements: Kbps, Mbps, or Gbps.

  • Kbps means kilobits per second (1,000 bits per second)
  • Mbps means megabits per second (1,000,000 bits per second)
  • Gbps means gigabits per second (1,000,000,000 bits per second)

Mbps is the most common term you’ll see—most internet plans range in speed from 1–1,000 Mbps. An internet speed represented in Kbps is usually super slow because it means it’s less than 1 Mbps.

Internet that reaches Gbps is often referred to as gigabit internet. While it’s not crucial for everybody to have gigabit internet speeds, it might benefit you if you live with a lot of people or regularly do high-bandwidth activities like streaming movies in 4K.

Pro tip:

If you’re looking for the fastest possible internet connection, take a look at the fastest internet providers in the US.

Download speed vs. upload speed—what’s the difference?

There are two types of internet speeds you should know: downloads and uploads.

Download speed is the speed at which information travels from various servers on the internet to your own, internet-connected device. For example, if you open Instagram on your phone, your download speed would determine how long it takes to load your feed or watch a friend’s Stories.

Activities that require download bandwidth:

  • Streaming videos or music
  • Reading an article or blog post
  • Scrolling through your social media feed
  • Downloading files

Upload speed is the rate at which information travels from your internet-connected device to the internet. So if you post to Instagram Reels, your upload speed dictates how fast it takes for your post to load onto Instagram’s server and appear in your feed for all your friends to see.

Activities that require upload bandwidth:

  • Participating in a Zoom call
  • Writing an article or blog post on Google Docs
  • Posting to social media
  • Hosting a livestream

On most internet plans, download speeds are much faster than upload speeds. We (speaking on behalf of all internet users) generally download much more information than we upload, so internet providers have traditionally allocated less bandwidth to uploads.

But upload speeds are still important, especially as more people depend on Zoom, Google Docs, and other interactive applications to work from home. Video conferencing, online gaming, social media, and sharing large files all require upload bandwidth—and fast upload speeds reduce the chance of choppy video calls and long load times.

How do you get fast upload speeds?

To get fast uploads, look for a fiber internet plan. Fiber is the only type of internet you can get that has equal upload and download speeds—also called symmetrical speeds.

If fiber isn’t available in your area, you can also get faster upload speeds by upgrading your current internet package—you won’t see as huge of a speed jump, but it could make a difference.

Run a search with your zip code to see if you can find faster internet in your area.

What types of internet are there—and how fast are they?

Internet typeMax download speedPriceAvailability*Learn more
Fiber5,000 Mbps$29.99–$189.95/mo.42.1%View Providers
Cable1,000 Mbps$19.99–$109.99/mo.89.0%View Providers
DSL100 Mbps$39.99–$55.00/mo.88.3%View Providers
5G1,000 Mbps$25.00–$144.99/mo.N/AView Providers
4G LTETypically 100 Mbps$25.00–$149.95/mo.N/AView Providers
Fixed wireless50 Mbps$25.00–$144.99/mo.66.5%View Providers
Satellite100 Mbps$30.00–$500.00/mo.99.9%View Providers

There are several types of internet connections, and the type of connection you have plays a huge part in the speeds you can get.

Fiber internet is the fastest internet you can get. It uses bundled fiber-optic strands wrapped in a reflective case to transmit large amounts of data with light signals. Most fiber internet plans give you 1,000 Mbps speeds, although some providers can get you speeds of up to 2,000 Mbps or even 5,000 Mbps. Fiber is also the only type of internet that gives you symmetrical upload speeds—so your uploads will be just as fast as your downloads.

Cable internet uses the same coaxial copper cables that transmit cable TV services. It can reach gigabit speeds and is more widely available than fiber, making it an excellent option for most customers looking to have high-speed internet in their homes.2 You can usually get it through current or former cable TV providers where you live.

DSL, short for digital subscriber line, uses the same wiring as landline telephone networks. It’s relatively slow (maxing out at 100 Mbps) and is becoming somewhat obsolete, since most DSL providers also offer fiber and have focused more on expanding their fiber services in recent years.

5G home internet is a relatively new internet type that provides internet over a fixed wireless connection. This type’s speeds range from 100–1,000 Mbps. 5G networks are still in the process of coming together, so 5G home internet isn’t widely available yet. The technology works best in densely populated areas, so 5G is mostly available in towns and cities—for now at least.

4G LTE home internet uses similar technology as 5G internet, but over 4G networks. It delivers slower speeds, usually dependent on what kind of cell service is available in the area. But it’s a great option for rural users whose other options might be limited to satellite internet.

Fixed wireless is a wireless, cellular–based type of internet connection. Most fixed wireless plans give you max speeds of 25–50 Mbps, making it a solid fallback option if you can’t find something faster or cheaper.

Satellite internet is available almost anywhere in the United States, but it’s the slowest kind of internet you can get. Most satellite customers live in rural areas where you can’t get any other type of internet connection.

What is latency?

Connection typeLatency (in ms)*
Fiber10–12
Cable13–27
DSL11–40

Latency (or ping rate) is the time required for a signal to travel from your computer to a remote server and back.

It’s a different measure of internet speed, and it’s just as important for the performance of your home network. High latency can lead to choppy video over Zoom, audio/video delays in livestreams, and laggy gameplay. Having low latency is particularly crucial in fast-paced online gaming because it enables quick response times and instantaneous action.

Get fiber internet for low latency—and faster online gaming

Out of all internet connection types, fiber internet has the lowest latency. Fiber-optic light signals work more efficiently than the electrical signals more commonly used with cable and DSL internet, which both have higher ping rates.

Cable has higher latency rates than fiber, while DSL’s latency is higher than cable. But the highest by far is satellite internet—which makes sense, considering its signal must travel all the way to a satellite orbiting dozens of miles above Earth and back.

How can you improve your internet speed?

You can improve your internet speed by upgrading to a faster plan, updating your equipment, or taking simpler measures like closing out apps and browser windows.

Internet can be slow for all sorts of reasons—and not just because you have a slow plan. So read on for common solutions and home remedies to put some pep in your Wi-Fi’s step. You can find more detailed explanations in our 10-step guide to improving internet speeds.

Update your modem and router. Outdated equipment can impede your internet speed, keeping you from hitting the speeds you’re paying for. To stay up to date, get a modem and router that meet wireless standards for Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) or Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). And if you have a cable gigabit plan, make sure you have a DOCSIS 3.1 gigabit modem.

Move your router to a better location. Your router dispatches a Wi-Fi signal to all the connected devices in your home, so make sure it’s in a centralized location (like your living room) and away from any obvious obstructions. Bulky furniture or electronic appliances like microwaves can block its signal.

Plug your computer directly into your router. Use an Ethernet cable to give your computer a more direct line to your home network. Wired connections improve your speeds and reduce the chance of signal interference.

Regulate other users’ online activity. If you have an important Zoom meeting, ask your kids to switch off the Xbox to free up more bandwidth. Some routers have Quality of Service (QoS) settings that let you put limits on certain users and online activities.

Close out unnecessary tabs and apps. Got two dozen tabs open on your browser? Clear the air by closing the ones you’re not using.

Upgrade your internet. If all else fails, you can always look into upgrading your internet speed. You may even consider switching providers if the service you have now just doesn’t cut it.

Search your zip code below to see what kind of internet speeds are available in your area.

FAQ about internet speed

What is bandwidth?

Bandwidth is an internet connection’s capacity for carrying data. The terms internet speed and bandwidth are often used interchangeably, but they refer to two different aspects of internet service. While bandwidth is a measure of capacity, internet speed is the measure of how fast information travels. So if your internet connection has a bandwidth of 5 Mbps, your speed would only be that fast if it’s operating at full capacity.

Several factors can slow your internet speed from reaching its full bandwidth. But a connection’s bandwidth will always cap how fast it can transmit information over the internet. This is why some internet providers list their services with speeds “up to” a given speed.

They aren’t really advertising the speeds of their services; they’re advertising the bandwidth of their connections by informing you of the highest speed those connections are capable of transmitting.

What is broadband internet?

Broadband internet is a term that’s often used interchangeably with high-speed internet, referring to any type of internet connection except dial-up. According to the Federal Communications Commission, an internet service must deliver at least 25 Mbps download speed and at least 3 Mbps upload speed to qualify as broadband—although FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has called for raising the baseline definition to much faster speeds.1

This term broadband came about as internet connection technology improved in the 1990s. Since internet was gradually allowing the transmission of information over a much larger variety of frequencies, internet experts started using the word broadband to describe this wide (broad) range of frequencies (bands).

What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is wireless internet.

On a technical level, Wi-Fi is a nickname for a set of technological protocols based on the IEEE 802.11 standards and upheld by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Industry leaders coined the term in the late 1990s to help market Wi-Fi products, since it was more catchy-sounding than IEEE 802.11.3

These days, the terms Wi-Fi and internet are often used interchangeably. Technically speaking, though, Wi-Fi is a technology standard to provide a wireless form of internet.

Sources

  1. Molly Wood, Marketplace, “There’s a New Boss at the FCC. Let’s Talk About the Internet, Shall We?” May 5, 2021. Accessed February 8, 2022.
  2. Federal Communications Commission, “Fixed Broadband Deployment: Area Summary,” June 2020. Accessed February 9, 2022.
  3. David Pogue, Scientific American, “What WI-FI Stands For—and Other Wireless Questions Answered,” May 1, 2012. Accessed February 15, 2022.

Author -

Peter Holslin has more than a decade of experience working as a writer and freelance journalist. He graduated with a BA in liberal arts and journalism from New York City’s The New School University in 2008 and went on to contribute to publications like Rolling Stone, VICE, BuzzFeed, and countless others. At HighSpeedInternet.com, he focuses on covering 5G, nerding out about frequency bands and virtual RAN, and producing reviews on emerging services like 5G home internet. He also writes about internet providers and packages, hotspots, VPNs, and Wi-Fi troubleshooting.

Editor - Rebecca Lee Armstrong

Rebecca Lee Armstrong has more than six years of experience writing about tech and the internet, with a specialty in hands-on testing. She started writing tech product and service reviews while finishing her BFA in creative writing at the University of Evansville and has found her niche writing about home networking, routers, and internet access at HighSpeedInternet.com. Her work has also been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ, and iMore.