If you’ve ever streamed video from the Internet, you’ve undoubtedly experienced a sudden drop in quality. A silly cat video that starts in crystal clear HD video becomes a murky mess of pixelated digital vomit. If you’ve ever scratched your head wondering why exactly that occurs, wonder no more. The culprit is bandwidth.
Simply put, not everyone’s Internet speeds are the same. There are many factors that contribute to Internet speed, including location, service provider and more. While you may not be able to control these factors, you are not completely helpless. Read our guide to find out how you can potentially improve your Internet speed with little to no cost.
What Is Bandwidth?
Simply put, bandwidth is the speed at which data can be transmitted between your computer (or other Internet-enabled device) and a website or service (like Netflix). The amount of bandwidth you have will impact the rate at which a web page loads or how long it takes to download a file. Long story short, more bandwidth equates to a faster Internet connection.
Speeds Required for Internet Video Streaming
A bit (short for binary digit) is the smallest unit of data measured by computers. Bandwidth is measured in “bits” per second, most often as kilobits and megabits. Kilobits, or kbps, is 1,000 bits per second, whereas Megabits, or Mbps, is 1,000 kbps.
So what sort of Internet speed do you need to stream video? Fortunately all of the major video streaming services have similar requirements and measure speed in Megabits per second. Since Netflix is one of the most popular streaming services available, we will take a look at their recommended Internet connection speeds.
Note: other services may have slightly different requirements. Be sure to check the specific details of the streaming service you are interested in.
- 0.5 Megabits per second (500 kbps) – Required broadband connection speed
- 1.5 Megabits per second (1,500 kbps) – Recommended broadband connection speed
- 3.0 Megabits per second (3,000 kbps) – Recommended for Standard Definition (480p) quality
- 5.0 Megabits per second (5,000 kbps) – Recommended for High Definition (1080p) quality
- 25 Megabits per second (25,000 kbps) – Recommended for Ultra HD (2160p) quality
It should also be noted that the above speeds reflect one stream. For simultaneous streams, multiply the connection speed by the number of active streams.
How to Check Your Internet Speed
Checking your Internet speed is fairly simple. There are a number of online services that can give you a fairly accurate idea of what sort of speeds you are achieving. The Netflix-backed Fast.com is one of the simplest and easiest to use. Navigate to the site, and it will automatically calculate your download speed in real time.
If you want a little more information, check out Ookla’s online diagnostic tool. This will give you both download and upload speed. Most folks are only concerned with their download speed; however, if you upload large files (e.g. publish videos on YouTube), then you’ll want to know your upload speed as well.
How to Improve Internet Speed
So your Internet speed is lacking and you can’t seem to watch YouTube in anything higher than 144p, the lowest quality available. Does this mean you are relegated to envying friends with faster Internet connections? Not necessarily. There are a number of steps you can take in order to maximize your Internet speed.
1. Password protect connection
Modern routers use a security protocol known as WPA2. What this means is that your Internet connection is password protection. Having a password-protected WiFi network not only keeps you safe but also prevents any random person within range of your router from connecting to your WiFi. Failure to do this could result in increased data usage and a siphoning of valuable Internet speed.
2. Move router
This seems dumb, but seriously, move your router. Modems and routers aren’t exactly the most aesthetically pleasing devices, so it’s only natural that people want them out of sight. Hiding them behind bookshelves or in closets can significantly hinder your connection speed. The ideal spot for your router is in the center of your home, as a router transmits the WiFi signal in all directions.
3. Wired connection
If possible, consider running an Ethernet cable from your modem/router directly to your devices. Wired connections are almost always faster and more reliable than wireless ones. WiFi signals have to travel and pass through impedences like walls and doors, negatively affecting the speed and reliability of your connection. It may not be practical to wire everything in your home or workplace, but even hardwiring a handful of devices can result in faster speeds.
4. Schedule heavy network usage (torrents, etc.)
Downloading and uploading large amounts of data can seriously sap your Internet speed. For example, downloading a large torrent file while trying to Skype can result in slow download speeds for the torrent and crummy Skype video quality. Get into the habit of conducting bandwidth-heavy tasks during times of the day that you will not be actively using the Internet, such as when you’re sleeping or at work.
5. Inquire with ISP
Have a look and see what sort of speeds your Internet Service Provider claims you should be getting. If the speeds you consistently experience are significantly lower than what your ISP advertises, it might be time to get in touch. Your ISP might be able to give you advice as to how to improve your connection speeds or offer an explanation as to why it’s so slow. If you’re not satisfied, you can always consider jumping ship and going with a different ISP.
Have you suffered from slow Internet speeds? What did you do to improve your situation? Do you have any tips for others who may be experiencing a lethargic connection? Let us know in the comments!