Frequently Asked Questions about Internet Speed

Demystify the alphabet soup of Internet upload speeds, download speeds, broadband, network bandwidth, shared vs dedicated bandwidth, and how this terminology can work in your favor to help you make the right choice as to what type of Internet speed is the most appropriate one for your specific needs.

What exactly is the "speed of the Internet"?

You may be wondering what exactly is meant by the "speed of the Internet"? Why isn't the speed of the Internet a standard, constant speed for everyone, somewhat analogous to how the speed of light or the speed of sound is a fixed rate?

When we refer to the "speed of the Internet", we are referring to the rate at which data is able to travel from one computer to another - for example, from a website half way across the world, to your laptop or your phone at home. The more data that is able to travel in a given period of time (such as, per second), the faster your web pages will load, the less buffering you will experience when watching a video, and the faster you will be able to upload / download data.

How do you measure the speed of the Internet?

Speed of data transmission is measured in terms of units of data per unit of time. The fundamental unit of data is called the "bit". The bit is nothing more than a 0 or a 1 - the absence or presence of an electromagnetic charge traversing a wire or the airwaves.

The following table summarizes some of the familiar data units that are commonly used to describe data transfer rates:

  • 8 bits = 1 byte
  • 1000 bytes = 1 kilobyte
  • 1000 kilobytes = 1 megabyte
  • 1000 megabytes = 1 gigabyte
  • 10 megabits = 1.25 megabytes
  • 125 megabytes = 1 gigabit

The most common rate is one second.

So when you hear the term "10 megabits per second" (abbreviated as "10 Mbs"), that means that 10 megabits of data are being transmitted from the source computer to your computer every second.

What determines Internet speed?

Unlike the speed of light or the speed of sound, Internet speed can vary depending on various factors:

  • Technology used to connect to the Internet (eg - 3G, 4G, or LTE wireless, Cable-modem, DSL, satellite, etc.)
  • Hardware limitation of the server hosting the website, your own computer / mobile device, the networking hardware (eg- router) in terms of capacity.
  • Software limitations (eg- the Operating System's settings) on your computer or on the web server end.
  • The number of concurrent users accessing your Wifi network simultaneously.
  • Limitations imposed by the service provider on either end.

What Internet speed is right for me?

Everyone wants the fastest Internet possible. When choosing the best Internet speed, you don't necessarily need to opt for the one advertised with the highest Mbs rate.

There is such a thing as "too high" of a speed. For example, if you are doing only light Internet surfing, and you are the only one using your network at home, then you will be wasting a lot of unused bandwidth. It would be like building a highway when there is only one car on the road. Higher bandwidth speeds are beneficial when you have multiple people accessing your network and doing more intensive activity - such as multiple members of your household streaming lengthy Netflix or Youtube videos simultaneously.

Conversely, if you have too many people using the Internet in your household, on a lower bandwidth connection, then you will experience buffering, sluggish download rates, and perhaps even network timeouts.

Here is a general guideline for choosing the right Internet speed:

15 Mbps - Good for light usage with only one or two household members using the Internet simultaneously for watching movies.

30 Mbps - More suitable for slightly larger households with multiple family members using multiple devices to connect to the Internet at the same time for moderate usage such as movies and gaming.

75 Mbps - If you have several family members all connected to the Internet who are engaging in intense Internet usage 24x7 such as gaming, social media, chatting, and watching movies.