Here’s how to calculate your bandwidth needs

Mar 9, 2024, 5:45 AM

(Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)...

(Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)

Q: When searching for an alternative ISP, how do I determine how much bandwidth I need?

A: You can make an educated guess of your needs based on the number of devices connecting, what they will be doing, and how often they’re used at the same time.

ISP (Internet Service Provider) packages are usually priced in tiers based on ‘up to’ bandwidth numbers. This doesn’t mean you’ll get a consistent connection at that speed, but rather that’s generally the best it will ever be.

Think of bandwidth like you would water pressure in your home. If you schedule your lawn sprinklers to go off when multiple people are showering, you’re more likely to notice a difference in water pressure.

If the usage is spread out over the day, so that each one is done separately, you’ll experience better water pressure.

What is Your Current Bandwidth?

I’d start by measuring your existing connection to see what your actual speeds are rather than what your ISP says your tier provides.

To do this, I suggest using a speed test that isn’t optimized for your ISP’s network which means don’t use the test that your ISP provides.

My go-to tool is because it’s not associated with any ISP, so you’ll get a more accurate representation of the speeds in real-world usage.

Once you tap the ‘Test My Internet’ button, select the ‘Combined’ option to test both your download and upload speeds.

Download speeds are important for streaming video, audio, gaming, and video conferencing, while upload speeds are important for posting pictures and videos online as well as video conferencing.

Do multiple tests at different times of day and take the average of those tests as your baseline for shopping.

Is Your Current Speed Adequate?

If you experience constant buffering while streaming video or have erratic issues while video conferencing, you may not have enough bandwidth for your usage.

If you aren’t having any problems at your current speeds and you’re shopping around to save some money, check to see if there is a lower tier of service with your current ISP first.

What Uses the Most Bandwidth?

Understanding which activities use the most bandwidth and evaluating how often they will be used at the same time is the best way to estimate your needs.

Streaming 4K video is one of the most bandwidth-intensive activities and if you routinely want to have multiple streams going, you’ll need a lot more bandwidth.

If online gaming is important, not only will the bandwidth be a consideration, but so will the latency, which you can also test at

Anything over 100ms is unacceptable while 20-40ms would be considered optimal.

A simple way to calculate your bandwidth needs based on your activities is available from the Consumer Reports website.

If you add devices based on each activity, it will generate a number that’s higher than you’ll really need, because it assumes all these activities will be happening simultaneously.

For instance, your smartphone won’t be streaming video and in a group video call at the same time, but you might stream music while using email.

Once you understand your regular activities and their associated needs, you can create a reasonable picture of your bandwidth needs.

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Here’s how to calculate your bandwidth needs