Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Do You Really Need Super Fast Internet?

For most ISPs (Internet Service Providers), it's all about selling the consumer faster Internet. Ten years ago, an ISP offering 10 Mbps (megabits per second) download speeds was a rare find. Today, 10 Mbps is considered slower than a sloth.

All the major players in the business of providing Internet service are on a quest to offer 100, 200, 300 Mbps or even higher to the home user. Naturally, the user will have to pay more to get faster Internet, but it's worth it, right? Big businesses have enjoyed it for years, don't we deserve it, too? Don't most of us need faster Internet?

The answer, known to us techie types, might surprise you, because that answer is generally "no". Let's cut through the fluff and take a crash course in broadband Internet. To understand your true needs, you must grasp what the term bandwidth means.

Generally speaking, bandwidth is the maximum rate at which you can download data from the internet to a computer or other Internet-connected device.

Bandwidth can be compared to a water hose. Imagine you need to fill a 100 gallon tank. If your garden hose puts out only 5 gallons of water per minute, it will take you 20 minutes to fill the tank. If you had a fire hose that put out a gallon of water every second, the tank would be filled in less than 2 minutes.

Get it? Bandwidth is like the size of the hose. The larger it is, the more data you can pull down in a given time. How much data do you really need to pull down in a given time? Probably a lot less than conventional wisdom -- and your provider's marketing department -- might lead you to believe.

Video streaming from a service like Netflix tends to consume a lot of bandwidth. One stream at standard definition will need about 3 Mbps to avoid the dreaded "buffering" warning. A high definition stream will need about 5 Mbps, and a 4K stream about 10 Mbps.

Despite popular belief, online gaming does not require much bandwidth at all. 3 Mbps should suffice. When it comes to gaming, another techie term called latency comes into play, and it's more important than bandwidth in this case. Latency is a measure of how fast your machine receives a response from a remote system after querying it. But's that's a topic for another day.

Internet-based telephone services require very minimal bandwidth in order for calls to be of good quality. So minimal, in fact, that a broadband phone doesn't need even 1 Mbps to work properly.

To calculate your speed needs, simply take a look at your Internet-connected devices and use the numbers above to arrive at a total bandwidth requirement for your home. For example, two HD video streams and 3 gaming machines in use simultaneously will require a minimum of 19 Mbps. Throw in a few more megabits just for good measure, and 25 Mbps would be enough for this situation.

So, when would you ever need 100 Mbps or more? Probably only if you're a thief and downloading illegal copies of movies, software or games, and don't want to wait more than a few minutes to enjoy the fruits of your illegal activity.

Internet providers are pushing faster Internet because they want to make more money from you, not because you really need that speed. They will push a 200 Mbps plan into your face while neglecting to tell you they still offer 50 Mbps for a lot less.

Armed with the knowledge you've gained from this post, you can now safely laugh at your ISP when they try to upsell you to their latest and greatest Internet access package. Why pay more for something you will never fully utilize?

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