Do I need Ultra Fast Broadband?

Image credit: Wikimedia

Well, we seem to have reached that point in history where everything we do is now linked to the internet somehow.  Whether we are streaming our favorite series on Netflix, Facetiming with our grandparents, gaming with strangers across the globe, or online shopping, quite a vast percentage of our downtime is now centered around bits of data flying into, and out of our homes.  Whether you like it or not, the internet revolution is here; it’s in full swing, and shows no signs of abating.  With all that extra data flying around, and the latest adverts from ISP’s boasting of “super-fast speeds”, you would be forgiven for feeling the pull to upgrade your current package, but do you really need to go for the top package?  Here are some things to consider when upgrading your current package or changing ISP’s.

Video Streaming 

One of the biggest strains on your internet connection is streaming video.  With the vast availability of high definition video on the web now, the chances are that the biggest use of your data will be the likes of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon TV or YouTube.  To explain the sheer scale of demand that video now puts upon our infrastructure, consider this data released by Netflix recently, that suggests around 37% of internet traffic in the United States is purely Netflix-based.  Just think about that for a second.  Roughly four in every ten megabytes of data in America is Netflix data.  If you add YouTube data to that, you end up with over half the data in the US consisting of streaming video.  This is no different to the data in the UK, France, Australia or New Zealand.  If you think that is pretty impressive, the next few years are going to blow your mind, as 4K streaming really takes off, and that percentage starts to edge nearer to 75% of total internet traffic.

So, do you need a fast connection to enjoy the latest episode of Game of Thrones?  Well, not necessarily.  Depending on which streaming service you use, a lightweight package might suit you just fine, but it really will depend on your specific use-case, and the quality you are expecting from the service you use.  When it comes to HD content, Netflix and YouTube roughly use around 5 MB/s of data.  This is usually well within most people’s current internet packages, and if you live alone and rarely use the internet for anything else, you may be able to get by with your paltry 5 MB/s package.  Ok, you may find the quality of the video dips from time to time, or perhaps that annoying ‘buffer gauge’ will appear once or twice an evening, but hopefully that doesn’t bother you.   Oh, it does bother you?  Then maybe it is time to upgrade your internet package.

Communication is Key 

As we move slowly away from our fixed landlines and embrace the likes of Skype, Whatsapp, Facetime and Viber, the quality of your internet connect becomes evermore important.  If you have a poor quality connection, trying to have a decent conversation using any of these services becomes a huge drag.  If you also like seeing the person you are talking to, a good connection is even more important, and as with all video services, a bigger burden upon your bandwidth.  While it may not cause the same dent as the HD videos from the streaming services, a connection of around 5 MB/s is still recommended if you want to see and hear the person, or people, you are talking to in crystal clear clarity. While Skype and Facetime both say that a connection of around 3 MB/s is enough, in the real world, other devices on your network may be using programs, or updating apps when they are idle, which uses data and could cause your connection to lag or disconnect. It is also important to remember that audio and video calls over the web rely just as heavily on your upload speed as your download speed.  If you want the recipient of your call to see you as well as you can see them, a 5MB/s upload speed is recommended.  This should cover you nicely for any unexpected traffic on your home network that could interfere with your call. It is also worth noting that, in general, upload speeds are around 80% lower than your download speed.  This is fine, and makes sense in general, as most of our data flows into our homes, rather than out of them.

One other thing to consider when selecting your package, is the ping rate you will receive.  Ping, in layman’s terms, is how quickly the data can travel from your device to your local exchange, and back again.  If you have a high ping rate, the data will take longer to get to the exchange, and you can end up with a slight lag on your call, which is very annoying.  If you happen to live within a kilometre of your local exchange, internet connections that use copper wires (ADSL, VDSL) can work fine.  If you live much further than that, naturally your ping rate will increase and you may find the delay in video calling too much to bare.  If this is the case, check out Fibre connections instead.  These tend to have much lower ping rates, and generally larger bandwidth capacity too.

Game playing 

Gamers need low ping rates.  There is no getting away from this.  Unless the only games you play are turn-based, gamers needs a fast and stable connection, otherwise it is ‘game over’.  Whether you are playing a ‘twitchy’ shooter, or a fast-paced driving simulation, a low ping rate is the most important thing to you.  If you also happen to live stream your gaming, a decent bandwidth pipe is also necessary.  Serious gamers out there need Fibre, there is no way to avoid this.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Working from home 

Are you working from home?  Do you need to shift large files around at high speed?  Then you need a robust connection.  If you don’t mind waiting four hours for that video file to upload, then disregard this section.  If, on the other hand you value your time, and need to work at speed with large files, a larger download and upload speed is always preferable.  While your ping rating isn’t as important here, download and upload speeds are; so pick your package wisely.  If you are throwing files around that are 100MB’s or less, then you should be fine with one of the smaller, ADSL packages.  If they are nearer to 1GB in size, you really need to consider Fibre.

Fibre connection pricing on

In Conclusion

Not everyone needs 200MB/s Fibre lines at home.  While they are preferable in every way to the cheaper packages, they can sometimes be ‘overkill’ for the average consumer. Be aware that as times goes on, we are only going to be using the internet more and more, so it is wise to pick a package that ‘just about’ surpasses your needs, rather than one that sits exactly on the edge of your current use-case.  If you enjoy watching Netflix, while also Facetiming Grandma in Florida, then it might be an idea to get yourself a package that has a bandwidth of 8MB’s rather than 5. If you live in a house with Youtube addicted teenagers who love video games and a partner who works from home while streaming Spotify all day, and Netflix all night, then a Fibre connection with at least 30MB’s would definitely be preferable.

If you do feel you are a light-to-medium internet user, one last thing to consider is whether you need an unlimited data package, or one that comes with a cap. In today’s modern world, it is hard to recommend anything but unlimited packages, except for very specific use-case scenarios.  If you wish to stream and web browse without any worries about your connection being cut or throttled, it is always best to go for an unlimited broadband package as the price rarely costs much more anyway.  While each customer is different, the following bullet points can be used to help you decide which category you fall into. If you are in doubt between two categories, pick the slightly bigger one.  You can thank me later.

Bandwidth Needs

  • 0 – 5 MB/s               – Checking email, web browsing, very light video streaming needs.
  • 5 – 10 MB/s – Checking email, web browsing, some video streaming and video calling
  • 10 – 30 MB/s – Checking email, web browsing, video streaming, video calling, multiple occupants in the home.
  • 30 MB/s and above – Checking email, web browsing, video streaming, video calling, gaming, with multiple occupants using many services at the same time.
Tom Parillo

Tom Parillo

I am interested in all things technology, especially automation, robotics and tech that helps change how society will live in the future.
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