What Is a Good Internet Speed
Remember when getting online meant getting off the phone? Back then, a “good” internet speed meant a less-than-lightning-fast 56 Kbps, or kilobits per second, if you were lucky. Most households could only access between 40 and 50 Kbps until broadband internet changed the game by introducing speeds up to 1.5 Mbps, or megabits per second, the equivalent of 1500 Kbps.
In the intervening decades, our expectations for what constitutes a “good” internet speed have changed. Most households can access the basic speed necessary to stream movies (5 Mbps), but in some neighborhoods, accessible speeds can climb to 100 Mbps or even up to 940 Mbps in areas with fiber-optic internet.
A higher speed is objectively a better speed, but what counts as a good internet speed for you? The answer is a little more subjective and depends on both your household size and what you do on the internet.
Live on your own? Anything from 10 Mbps on up will do, though 20 Mbps or more will give you the bandwidth to game, stream, and run several devices (like your phone, your smart TV, and your laptop) at the same time. Member of a large, device-heavy household? The more devices and users, the more bandwidth you need, so choose a speed plan up to 40 Mbps or 100 Mbps to accommodate everyone. And if you spend hours a day or week playing online multiplayer games or engaging in other high-bandwidth activities, you’ll want 100 Mbps or even up to 940 Mbps (if it’s available in your area) to keep latency low and rankings high.
A megabit is 1,000 times faster than a kilobit, and a gigabit is 1,000 times faster than a megabit, but what does that mean for real-time internet speed? Typically, the higher your bandwidth, the faster you can download content; with up to 940 Mbps, you can download a 2-hour HD movie in just 18 seconds. On average, the same activity would take 13 minutes at 20 Mbps, 3 minutes at 80 Mbps, and 2.6 minutes at 100 Mbps. (In case you’re wondering, a 2-hour HD film has an average file size between 2 and 5 GB, or gigabytes, which measure file size and storage space, unlike a gigabit, which measures speed.)
Upload Speeds vs. Download Speeds
Your upload speed determines how quickly data travels from your devices at home to another space on the web. The faster the upload speed, the faster you can send an email, post to Instagram, or update a blog. Most of these activities take very little bandwidth.
Your download speed determines how quickly your web-enabled devices can download a web page, video, song, or application. Since downloading content to stream requires more bandwidth than uploading a photo, internet speed plans typically include faster download speeds than upload speeds.
Test Your Internet Speed
Not sure if you have good upload and download speeds? Test your speed a few times in a row; results differ if you’re hardwired to the modem (which will give you a more accurate result) and based on how many devices you’re using. For best results, hook up the Ethernet cable, make sure your device isn’t downloading applications in the background, and disconnect all devices except the one you’re testing.
Online speed tests like the CenturyLink Speed Test Tool and speedtest.net send a piece of binary data from the test’s server to your device and back again. Based on the time it takes the data to return, the test calculates crucial speed components like upload and download speed, and ping time, terms we’ll explain further down.
A ping time is how long it takes your network to react to contact from another server. The lower your ping, the better: 20 milliseconds and lower is considered an excellent ping, while 150 milliseconds and above indicates a noticeable lag.
Upload speed is how fast your network lets you post content or share data.
Download speed is how fast your network lets you access online content. The higher your download speed, the faster you can download content, open webpages, and stream songs and videos. Ideally, if you’re the only household user online at the time of the test, the download speed nears the speed tier you signed up for.
Factors that Affect Internet Speed
Number of Users
When multiple household users are online simultaneously, each user gets a slice of the bandwidth, resulting in slower speeds for everyone. If you have a large household, upgrading to a faster speed may solve your problem. If switching speed plans isn’t an option right now, try limiting the number of people who can be online at the same time.
Patterns of Use
When you get online, do you focus on one task at once? Or do you pull up movies while updating programs in the background, chatting with friends, and googling the next game to download? Multitasking slows your internet speed, so if you want to up the signal, tackle a single activity at once. Don’t run any background tasks and close any apps you aren’t using.
Number of Devices
Using multiple devices at once has the same impact as connecting multiple users: the more web-enabled devices you’re using, the less bandwidth you have to accomplish each online task. Your game console, laptop, tablet, smartphone, and desktop computer don’t all need to be online at once, especially since they may be updating quietly in the background, absorbing a lot of your bandwidth.
Types of Activities
Basic internet tasks like emailing, browsing, shopping, and checking social media don’t use much bandwidth. On the other hand, gaming, downloading large files, and using streaming video require higher download speeds. If you frequently participate in high-bandwidth online activities, consider upgrading to a higher internet speed plan.
If you spend time online streaming your favorite these are the minimum speeds you need to achieve the noted quality levels:
- Standard definition: 3-4 Mbps
- High definition (1080p): 5 - 8 Mbps
- Ultra HD (4k): 25 Mbps
Gaming consoles require a minimum download speed to enable web content. While different games also require different speeds, start with these to get online:
- Desktop or laptop: 3 to 6 Mbps
- Console: 3 - 4.3 Mbps
Working from Home
If you telecommute, your bandwidth needs vary depending on the type of work you do, but some common work-from-home activities require these starting speeds:
- VoIP call: under .5 Mbps
- Email: 1 Mbps
- High-definition video call: 1.5 Mbps
- Conference video call: 6 Mbps
Whether you work from home, are in a long-distance relationship, or have friends and family members scattered across the country, you’ll want these speeds to place video calls:
- Standard definition video call: 1 Mbps
- High definition video call: 1.5 Mbps
- VoIP calls: under .5 Mbps
- High-definition teleconference calls: 6 Mbps
Depending on your most common online task, you can get by with fairly low minimum speeds:
- General website browsing: 1 Mbps
- Social media: 1 Mbps
- Emailing: 1 Mbps
- Online education: 5 Mbps
Downloading Large Files
If work requires you to download and upload large files or if you frequently add new software packages, you might need higher minimum speeds than more general users:
- Large file downloads: 10 Mbps
- Downloading movies to a tablet 20 Mbps
Match Your Needs to CenturyLink Speed Plans
CenturyLink offers multiple speed tier plans including: All speeds up to 100 Mbps and Fiber Gigabit (listed speeds may not be available in your area.) Speeds up to 20 Mbps are perfect for those with one or two devices and basic internet needs, including general browsing and streaming. Speeds up to 100 Mbps are just right for those with larger households, multiple users and devices, and frequent HD streaming needs. And if you want near-instantaneous downloads and next-to-no lag, Fiber Gigabit will take your internet experience to the next level.
Maximum download/upload speed of up to 940 Mbps via a wired connection.
Not sure why you need more than the minimum speeds listed above? The minimum speed isn’t the same as the best speed. While 1 Mbps is enough for basic emailing, browsing, and social media, downloading a web page at that speed will take several seconds. For faster connections you can share with several household members, start with up to 10 Mbps and complete simple tasks without frustration.
CenturyLink Internet up to 100 Mbps
CenturyLink Internet up to 100 Mbps
Paperless billing or prepay required. Additional taxes, fees, and surcharges apply. Get the fastest internet speed available at your location (max speed is up to 100 Mbps). Offer Details
|All speeds up to 100 Mbps|
Speed may not be available in your area.
CenturyLink Internet Fiber Gigabit
CenturyLink Internet Fiber Gigabit
Paperless billing or prepay required. Additional taxes, fees, and surcharges apply. Offer Details
Speed may not be available in your area. Maximum download/upload speed of up to 940 Mbps via a wired connection.
Get the Speeds You're Paying for with These Tips
Remove Network Congestion
Just like highway traffic, internet traffic can get congested. Phone or computer apps could be running in the background when you’re not actively using them, or you might have too many devices hooked up to the same network at one time, especially if you have smart home security. Try disconnecting unnecessary devices from the internet when they’re not in use.
Adjust Equipment Location/Reduce Distance
Wi-Fi signals can travel through walls and between floors, but they’re stronger when they don’t have to. If your modem or router is in the basement, move it closer to your most frequently used devices. Place your modem on a shelf and remove obstacles that could block the signal.
Do you have the most up-to-date equipment? If not, you probably aren’t getting the fastest possible internet connection. Check with your internet service provider if you have outdated equipment and make sure to always update routers to the most current software.
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