Zooming with loved ones and office mates, bingeing on streaming services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix and playing online games emerged as a new normal during the pandemic.
Now that you’re out and about again, you still rely on the internet to socialize, stream media, control smart home appliances such as thermostats and door locks and get work done remotely. Only now you’re often frustrated with a connection that frequently stalls, stutters and is just plain slow.
So is there a cheap path to a speedier cyber-thruway, or must you buy into the expensive gig-speed promotions that broadband providers offer? And just how fast is fast enough?
No answer is one-size-fits-all. The size of your home, the number of people living there and the myriad devices competing for precious broadband all factor into the equation.
AARP Tele-Town Hall
What: Health and income are closely tied to having high-speed internet. But lack of affordable, reliable internet access remains a problem affecting millions of Americans, many of them older or in rural areas. What changes are ahead? Ask experts and participate in a live question-and-answer session.
When: 1 p.m. ET Thursday, June 22 at AARP.org.
Speakers: Stephen K. Benjamin, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and former mayor of Columbia, South Carolina; and Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance based in Columbus, Ohio.
What’s more, your neighbors may contribute to network congestion, and in parts of the country the speed may get worse when the weather turns colder. Having kids or grandkids around who frequently log in from home doesn’t help.
Here’s a guide to determine internet speeds and steps you can try to rev things up
Run a speed test
Several online tests are available for free at sites such as Fast.com, Speakeasy Speed Test, SpeedOf.Me and TestMy.net. Another popular option is Ookla’s aptly named Speedtest, available on the web or as a download for Android, Apple TV, Google Chrome, macOS and Windows.
The minimum you need
If one person is doing the tasks below on the internet, that user will need at least the following internet speed. Additional simultaneous users require more bandwidth — the amount of data that can be sent over a connection in a certain period.
- Email, podcasts, social media or songs, 1 megabit per second (Mbps).
- Zoom or other video chat, 2 Mbps.
- Standard-definition streaming video, 480 pixels tall, 3 to 4 Mbps.
- High-definition streaming video, 720p, 5 to 8 Mbps.
- Student, telecommuting needs, 5 to 25 Mbps.
- Ultra-high-definition, 4K, streaming video, 2160p, 25 Mbps.
When you click or press Go, packets of data are dispatched between your device and a site’s network of local servers as the test gauges download and upload speeds in megabits per second (Mbps). You’ll also receive a “ping” result, which tells you how long your connection needs to respond to a request.
The Federal Communications Commission hopes to simplify the way you shop for high speed internet service in the first place through broadband nutrition labels that internet service providers (ISPs) must start displaying later this year or in 2024. Some households with limited income can qualify for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a $30 subsidy for speedy internet.
Put the results in context
Streaming video exacts a far greater demand on your broadband than, say, checking email.