By Leon Hounshell April 3, 2020
Internet providers are offering faster and faster speeds, and as households and businesses depend more and more on connected devices, increasing the speed of the internet seems like a great idea. Yet, more download speed doesn’t always result in a better experience.
Yes, internet access speed is important, but arguably more important is how that speed is distributed throughout your home over the Wi-Fi network.
How Much Speed Do You Really Need?
To be clear, internet speed matters. But the speed you need depends on what you’re going to do with it. If you’re simply sending emails, checking social media and surfing the web, a speed of 5-10 megabits per second should do it. Start streaming movies on your HD TV, and now you need about 10-15 megabits per second. For online gaming, at least 20 megabits per second is usually recommended.
Move up to 4K video streaming, and the recommendation starts at about 25 megabits per second. The number of people and devices that use the internet at the same time can multiply your speed needs. And if you’ve ever stared at your laptop, watching that bar in the middle of the screen slowly fill in, you know that really large files download faster when you have more speed.
Still, taking everything into account, 40-50 megabits per second is usually enough speed for a household to play online games, post pictures, stream HD movies, video conference and more. Families who are heavier internet users – serious gamers, 4K binge streamers, etc. – will need closer to 100 megabits per second to make sure their internet connection will not be the bottleneck. Based on your business needs and employee numbers, you may look for a similar speed.
Obviously, every household and business is different, which is why you might want to talk with your internet service provider about what you’re paying for versus what you need. Alternatively, you can search for a bandwidth calculator that will help assess your particular situation. Enter your household or business’s number of people, devices and online activities, and the calculator will recommend how many megabits per second you need.
Now, if you’re paying only for the speed you need and your internet is working great throughout your entire home, congratulations! You are in a fairly exclusive group of internet consumers.
But, if you’re paying for more speed than you need or you think, “I’m paying for the speed I need, and the internet is still not doing its job,” stick with me. There’s more to meeting your internet needs than speed.
Getting The Right Speed To All The Right Places
When movies buffer, games hang up and files take forever to download, paying more to your internet provider to increase your internet access speed may seem like the answer. But it’s usually not the solution.
Nearly all of our devices now connect to the internet via Wi-Fi. And Wi-Fi signals are like light: Some objects interfere with them, while others let them through. It doesn’t matter how fast the internet speed coming into your house is. If the Wi-Fi signals are blocked or absorbed – or if they have to travel too far – you’re going to have internet dead zones.
Fortunately, there are two types of boosters to fix the problem: Wi-Fi extenders and Wi-Fi mesh networks.
Wi-Fi extenders simply pick up the Wi-Fi signal from your wireless router and rebroadcast it — or extend it. So, while the extended signal may not be as robust as the original signal, it’ll be stronger in that area than it was before. Note that much like your router, where you place the extender makes a difference. It needs to pick up a good signal from the main router while also being close enough to the Wi-Fi dead zone to bring it to life.
However, due to placement issues and the size and layout of your home, a Wi-Fi mesh network may be a better solution. Mesh networks use multiple access points, called nodes, that you place around your house to blanket it in a wireless network. With a mesh Wi-Fi system, you can cover every corner of your space by simply adding nodes. This means, regardless of where you are in your home, the speed you’re paying for is (close to) the speed you’ll experience.
And speaking of speed and Wi-Fi networks, as you investigate how to improve yours, you’ll probably run across Wi-Fi 6. This new technology standard, which was launched in the fall of 2019, delivers faster speeds, a longer range and better support for the internet of things (IoT) world in which we live. If you’re already planning to purchase a mesh network, it’s probably worth investing in this latest technology so you can take advantage of its benefits, as more and more devices are Wi-Fi 6 certified. And older devices work on Wi-Fi 6; they just won’t experience the performance improvements.
For years, when the internet was slow, the first thought was always, “We need faster speeds from our internet provider.” Now we know that more speed isn’t always the answer; you also have to get that speed to all the right places. Leveraging advancements in Wi-Fi technologies will allow you to take advantage of the speed you’re paying for and greatly improve the overall internet experience. And it might even reduce your internet bill.
See all posts from Leon Hounshell.