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What Is a Good WiFi Speed?

Written by: Jefferson / October 07, 2021

In the early days of internet connection, you would have to directly connect your device to your modem by using an ethernet cable (does anyone remember dial-up?). Things are a little bit different in the modern-day, thanks in large part to the creation of Wi-Fi and internet plans through an internet service provider (ISP). These invisible networks are created by your router and connect multiple devices to your modem at one time, allowing you to access the internet wirelessly. 
There is a long list of potential possibilities when using the internet these days, but they will each require good internet speed and signal in order to function properly. So depending on what you want to do, from streaming Netflix to playing on a gaming console, from watching silly videos on YouTube to browsing social media to buying things on Amazon, you might need a much faster Wi-Fi speed than you currently have. Let’s take a look at fast internet speeds and the bottom line on what a good WiFi speed really is.

How Does Wi-Fi Work? 

Before getting into the details of Wi-Fi speeds, first, we need to cover the basics. Wi-Fi works in a similar way to your car radio, only in a much more powerful range. Each of these devices will use antennas in order to receive and transmit data over airwaves. The frequency unit of “hertz” is used to measure the overall speed of these transmissions. 
One hertz is equal to one cycle per second. The easiest way to illustrate what a hertz measures is to imagine yourself sitting on a beach. A hertz would measure the time it takes for each ocean wave to crash on the shore. 
If the wave crashes one per second, then its frequency would be one hertz (different than gigabits and megabits). In general, most radios will generally receive frequencies that are measured in the range of kilohertz to megahertz. On the other hand, Wi-Fi data is measured in the gigahertz range. In order to better illustrate just how much difference that is, this is how those measurements break down:
-One kilohertz is equal to one thousand hertz.
-One megahertz is equal to one million hertz.
-One gigahertz is equal to one billion hertz.
To use our earlier ocean metaphor, this would mean that Wi-Fi networks are capable of transmitting data at several billion waves every single second. The frequency at which Wi-Fi networks can transmit data is around the same frequency that a microwave requires in order to heat up food. Needless to say, the amount of information being transmitted and received by Wi-Fi is fairly incredible.  

What Information Is Sent Through Wi-Fi? 

Now that we’ve covered how Wi-Fi transmits data, we can get into exactly what kind of information is being transmitted and received. The coding and information found on the internet are extremely complex and virtually impossible for your device to read. Whenever you use the internet, your device will transmit a series of ones and zeros to your router in a matter of milliseconds.
Known as binary code, this is the analog-based universal language of computers. These binary digits are the smallest possible unit of data in computers and are measured as “bits” (MB, KBPS, GBPS, etc.). The bits will travel along the frequency waves mentioned earlier and into your router. They will then transfer into the modem and be uploaded to the internet, ideally at maximum speed. It can depend on network congestion and wireless signals. 
The request will then be fulfilled by the modem and the response will be downloaded and transferred to the router. Here the complex information will be broken down and translated into binary and sent through the waves back into your device. Although the process sounds fairly complicated, remember that most Wi-Fi networks operate at a rate of several billion hertz per second. The entire process usually only takes a fraction of a second to complete, which is the minimum download speed.

What Speed Wi-Fi Do I Need?

Although your Wi-Fi network most likely runs at several billion hertz per second (do an internet speed test to find out the exact rate), that does not mean that it transmits bits at the same rate. That is where another measurement unit is needed. The upload and download speed of a Wi-Fi network is generally measured in bits per second (BPS). 
As covered earlier, one bit is equal to one digit in a binary sequence. The more bps per second that can be uploaded or downloaded, the faster internet speed you will have. This will allow you to perform various activities on the internet. 
Since the overall amount of information is so overwhelming and difficult to measure, most Wi-Fi speeds are measured using megabytes per second (Mbps download speed). A byte is a unit of measurement equal to eight bits. Therefore one megabyte is equal to eight million bits of data. Here is a list of the more common online activities and how many Mbps they typically require.

Surfing and Browsing The Web

Arguably the most common pastime requiring the internet is generally surfing and browsing the web. Compared to some of the other activities on this list, surfing the web will require much less information to be transferred. 
In general, it will require around one megabyte worth of data to be transferred in order to completely load a web page. The overall amount of bytes could change depending on how complex the web page is and if they have videos streaming or not, but one megabyte is a fairly safe approximation (it should never be as high as 10mbps). 
Performing other normal tasks will usually require even less information. For example, sending an email that only includes text will only require about 10 kilobytes of data, which is equal to 0.01 megabytes. Even the slowest Wi-Fi speeds and servers are more than capable of being able to quickly load web pages and send emails.

Streaming Videos

In the last few years, it has become more and more popular for people to stream movies, tv shows, and sports events using the internet through a wired connection. Since there is so much audio and visual information being displayed, streaming videos will require a lot of megabytes. The largest factor involved will be the quality of the video being streamed. 
For example, streaming a standard definition video will typically only require about three or four Mbps. However, streaming a video in high definition (HD) will require almost double the amount of Mbps in order to stream. You would need between five or eight Mbps for high-definition videos. Streaming a video in 4K ultra HD (the best quality currently available) will usually be at least double the speed of high definition. It could take as many as 25mbps to stream 4k Ultra HD videos.   

Online Gaming

The gaming industry has been steadily growing for decades and is currently a multi-billion dollar industry. As more and more people are entering the world of online gaming, internet providers have had to raise the capabilities of their Wi-Fi speeds to compensate. 
When streaming videos, it’s not uncommon for there to be somewhat of a lag between frames and be somewhat jumpy. This is known as latency and refers to the amount of time in between a user completing an action or request and the appropriate response being made. For gamers, even the slightest issues with latency can completely ruin their online experience. 
For this reason, most video game console manufacturers recommend an internet speed of at least three Mbps for downloading and one Mbps for uploading. However, various internet service providers recommended using speeds of at least 50 Mbps for downloading and 25 Mbps for uploading. A few internet service providers say even this isn’t enough and recommended using download speeds of more than 300 Mbps for the best experience.  

Working From Home

Thanks in large part to the global pandemic, the amount of people working from home has recently skyrocketed. In order to properly perform your job at home, you will most likely require the ability to send and receive a large number of emails, take part in video conferences, and download and share massive files. We’ve already covered how much data you need to exchange emails and it’s so small that you probably won’t need to plan for it specifically. 
The overall speed required for video conferencing is relatively small as well. You will typically need around the same Mbps to video conference that you will to stream videos. A download speed of around three or four Mbps should be enough for you to view your video conference and an upload speed of at least one Mbps will be enough for you to participate. 
The biggest potential factor with working from home is if you will need to download large files. In general, the higher Mbps that you have, the faster that your download will be completed. If you are frequently required to download large files, you should be using a speed of at least 50 Mbps. 

Multiple Users 

In addition to the activities being performed online, you will also have to take into account the overall users and devices in your household. Remember, a network can be split between several devices and there is only so much data transfer to go around. Even though it only requires around four Mbps to stream a video, having four people streaming at one time will mean your network will be transferring around 16 Mbps of data. This is a breakdown of the general range that you will need based on your household:
-If you live alone and only have a few devices connected to your Wi-Fi at a time, most basic packages and speeds will be more than enough for you. Since most activities only require a few Mbps in order to function, one user with one device can generally be covered with a package of three to eight Mbps.
-If there are multiple people living in your home and each using their own device, that will need to be taken into account when trying to figure out the overall speed that you will need. For example, if you live with your significant other and it’s just the two of you then you would most likely need a service that provides around 12 to 25 Mbps. It may depend on exactly what you two are doing, but such a package will usually cover it. 
-For a family of four, it would require much higher speeds and you would need at least 25 Mbps or more to meet your needs. A good rule of thumb would be to take the listed amount of speed that you have and divide it by the overall number of users. If you have six people using your network, then 20 Mbps would mean less than four Mbps for each user, well below the requirement for most online activities. 

The Takeaway

When it comes to trying to find the best speed for your Wi-Fi, it will heavily depend on several factors. Each activity that you are trying to engage in online will require a different amount of data to be uploaded and downloaded by your router. In addition, having multiple users on your network at one time will also require a higher rate of information to be transferred. 
Most internet service providers have subscription packages that range from 25 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps so you will have plenty of options to choose from. Another key factor to keep in mind is the ability of your router. If you have an outdated or inferior router then the package won’t matter very much. Make sure that your router is strong enough to utilize the internet package that you have, otherwise, you are just wasting money paying for speeds that you can’t use.  
How Does Wi-Fi Work? | Scientific American
hertz Definition & Facts | Britannica
How Does Wi-Fi Work? | Britannica
Bits and binary - Introducing binary - GCSE Computer Science Revision | BBC.
When bandwidth and storage size matters: Bits vs. bytes | Red Hat.
Video Streaming App Revenue and Usage Statistics (2021) | Business of Apps
10 Remote Workplace Trends To Look Out For In 2021 | Forbes
Household Broadband Guide | FCC