Dan has a BSc. in Engineering and is interested in Home Networking. He also installed a few stable Wi-Fi networks for family and friends.
Internet companies try to lure us over with 'gigabit internet', 'fiber' and '5G'. And they are right—those new technologies are incredible and will open up a lot of new possibilities in the future. Of course for all this extra speed they charge extra money, and it is tempting to pay that extra money for having the latest cutting edge technology.
Well, I say don't. It's too soon.
Paying for Gigabit Speeds You Might Not Be Getting
There are a lot of factors that have an influence on your actual internet speed. First of all the source. A source can be a simple website or the servers from Playstation downloading your latest purchased game. If the servers of the source are not sending you those files in gigabit speeds, you surely are not receiving them in gigabit speeds. Servers can be crowded and therefore need to divide all their bandwidth amongst more users. Also, a lot of servers give every user a fixed speed so they have headroom for other internet intensive tasks.
Even if the source is giving you your full speed, chances are that your internet provider is not able to keep up. When you sign up for an internet plan, the speed on your contract is often described as speed up to a certain number. You will achieve this maximum speed in good conditions (connected with an ethernet cable or on a great Wi-Fi network) when you test your internet on websites like speedtest.net. Your provider knows you are testing and gives the speedtest the number one priority. If you monitor your connection speed 24/7 you'll see that your speed is lower most of the time! That is because your internet provider doesn't have the infrastructure to give everyone their top speed all of the time. They use smart tricks to make sure that no one drops out, hoping that not everyone is going to download big files at the same time. I don't say that this is a bad thing, it is simply necessary to cut costs maintaining the network. That most people don't even notice, is proof that it is working. You could notice though, if you really look for it in evenings when everyone is busy on their computers or is binging Netflix.
Most of the Time, You Won't Notice the Difference
A website doesn't consist of many gigabytes of data and that's a good thing, otherwise we would be waiting forever for a page to load. If a website's server is indeed giving you gigabit speeds (which I highly doubt, see above), then your website would only load a fraction of a second faster.
If we make the comparison between someone who has a decent internet connection of 100 Mbps or someone who has 1000 Mbps, I am not even sure if you would see the difference. A 3 MB page would be loaded in 0.24 seconds with the first connection and 0.024 seconds with the gigabit one. In numbers a big difference, yes, but in the real world not so much. You must also add the processing time that your computer needs to do to display the page onto your screen to this time, so the difference between the two will be relatively smaller.
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What About for Gaming?
'But I am a big gamer, I need fast internet to give me the edge in my online matches.', I hear you say. Well, that is partially true. You need a fast response time, the time that is needed to send one bit of information from your computer to the server and back. Another name for this is 'ping' of 'pingtime'. But for most people 'speed' means how many megabytes per second, aka how much information you send to that server and back to your computer.
The truth is, most games just need to send where you are on the map and what you are doing. That takes very little data to do, for example Fortnite uses around 50–60MB per hour of gameplay. You really need those fast response times! It is better to game on a 5 Mbps connection with 5 ms ping than on a gigabit one with 60 ms ping.
It is better to game on a 5 Mbps connection with 5 ms ping than on a gigabit one with 60 ms ping.
The Big Exception: Downloading
I must be honest, downloading on a fast connection is way more pleasant than on a slower connection. But of course, where years ago doubling your internet speed was the difference between a four-hour download or a two-hour one, it has today become a matter of minutes, maybe an hour. We're also in the streaming era, which means that we only need an internet speed that's at least the bitrate of our Netflix show (5 Mbps for HD, 25 Mbps for UHD). Still, waiting for something to download sucks. And games nowadays are often bigger than 50 gigabytes. How much you are willing to wait and therefore pay, is completely up to you.
So How Much Do I Actually Need?
It all depends on how intensively the internet is used in your house. As a rule, I would say multiply the number of video streams at the same time with their bitrate and add 50 Mbps. For four UHD video streams, the maximum that Netflix offers you, that means 4 x 25 Mbps + 50, equals 150 Mbps. For four HD streams, 4 x 5 Mbps + 50, equals 70 Mbps.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Dan Carbon