How Much Bandwidth do I Need?

By Miles V. May 4, 2011

When you’re shopping around for internet service, an internet provider (i.e. AT&T, Comcast) will typically offer many differently-priced service plans depending on how much bandwidth they will provide.  This equates almost directly with connection speed and load times, so it’s important to have enough bandwidth to accommodate your browsing habits.

There are two important metrics in bandwidth allocation (measured in Megabits per second or Mbps): upstream and downstream, denoting the speed of outbound and inbound traffic respectively.  They are useful for different tasks, so let’s address them separately.  All bandwidth suggestions below are for a single user.  Obviously if many users are simultaneously sharing a single connection, requirements will increase accordingly.

Downstream Bandwidth

This is the more useful of the two metrics for most residential users.  It reflects how much data can be transmitted to your computer/LAN at one time, affecting the speed of web page loading, file downloading, video/audio streaming, etc.  For comfortable web browsing, I recommend you have 1-2 Mbps per user.  If you watch a lot of YouTube or Netflix or use Pandora or other streaming media service, you probably want more like 4-5 Mbps per user.  If you make use of digital software and game distribution services like Steam or frequently download very very large files, then you should spring for 10-20 megs or faster.  It will really save on your thumb-twiddling time.

Upstream Bandwidth

Upstream bandwidth plays a more complicated role in internet activity.  It is less used, but still very important as it determines how quickly your computer/LAN can transmit data to a remote location.  In web browsing and media streaming, its only real function is to send the initial request for web pages and files to the server.  After that, all the load is carried on the downstream pipe.  For this reason ISPs typically provide much less outbound bandwidth to their subscribers, sometimes as little as 1/10th the inbound.

Upstream bandwidth does have significant impact on certain operations.  Does it take a long time to attach files to your email?  That’s the limitation of your upload speed.  Stuttering in Skype calls?  That’s probably a lack of upstream bandwidth (though it could be yours or the person you’re talking to).  Though you can theoretically make Skype video calls with 512k upstream bandwidth, you will probably experience poor performance and/or low picture quality.  Offsite backup systems like Mozy or Carbonite rely exclusively on your outbound bandwidth to transmit your files to their servers.  This is the reason they take so long to complete a full backup.

Sufficient outbound bandwidth is also critical when hosting remotely-accessible services on your LAN.  If you use Remote Desktop or LogMeIn or other remote protocol to access your home or office computer while on the road, you should have at least 1 Mbps upstream. 2 Mbps  or better is a good idea when accessing remote files via VPN.  If you’re hosting a website, you’ll need some significant outbound bandwidth too, but that becomes more complicated because your bandwidth requirements will change depending on how popular your site is.  I recommend 2 Mbps or more to start.

The Short and Sweet

If you want affordable general purpose internet and won’t be using any kind of remote access or hosting services, get 2-4 Mbps downstream per user and don’t sweat the upstream speed.  But do be aware of these metrics so you can make informed changes going forward.

Table o’ Bandwidth Requirements (Downstream)

Bandwidth (per user) What it’s fast enough for…
< 1 Mbps Email
Instant Messaging
Frustrating Web Browsing
MUDs (those old text adventure games, remember?)
1-2 Mbps Web Browsing
Audio Chat
Streaming Audio (i.e. Pandora)
Online Gaming
Facebook
3-4 Mbps Video Chat
Streaming Video (YouTube, Netflix, etc.)
High Quality Photos
Peer to Peer File Sharing
Obsessive Facebook Use
5-9 Mbps Streaming HD Video
Porn (see Streaming HD Video)
10-20 Mbps Digital Software Distribution
20-50 Mbps Downloading very large files
Porn Addiction (see Downloading very large files)
50+ Mbps Huge households
Corporations
Small Countries
Impatient People

Table o’ Bandwidth Requirements (Upstream)

Bandwidth (per user) What it’s fast enough for…
< 256 Kbps Email & Instant Messaging
Web Browsing
Audio/Video Streaming
SSH Server
512 Kbps Audio Chat
Online Gaming
Remote Desktop
1 Mbps Video Chat
Emailing tons of obnoxious photos
Hosting a network game (2-4 players)
Screen Sharing
BitTorrent
2 Mbps Skype with more than 2 people
Hosting a network game (4-8 players)
Remote Backup
VPN
Web server for a small site
3-5 Mbps Multicast Video Streaming
Web server for a mildly popular site
P2P Network Hub
10+ Mbps Making Me Jealous

45 thoughts on “How Much Bandwidth do I Need?

  1. BNR

    Hi.. we are a team of 10 members who work in a remote connection accessing all at a time with a few application opened all. What will the minimum requirement of internet. Will 1mbps speed is enough to work seamlessly.

    Reply
    1. Miles V.

      If you’re all accessing simultaneously…..I doubt it. Windows Remote Desktop is pretty efficient, but for decent performance, you should have at least 512k per user. Get at least 5Mbps upstream at the server site; more if there are other services on your network like mail, web, backup, etc.

      Reply
  2. Obiwan362

    So, I run a small YouTube channel. Everytime I go to upload a video, I lose all ability to use the internet. The tech told me he thinks it’s a bandwidth issue. I have 20Mbps up and 2 down. If it is a bandwidth problem, is there a way I can limit the bandwidth being used for YouTube, so that I still have some left for everything else?

    Reply
  3. Pingback: What’s “bandwidth” all about?

  4. Alex

    Hello this thread has been a lot if help, and ive read the entire page. However i still have a question i was hoping you could answer for me. I live in a house of three with my dad and sister, and when i go to speedtest i get 112mbps download and around 20-22mpbs upload. However how could i check bandwidth and not just speed? I ask because i am trying to stream on twitch ( up to ten hours a day on the weekend.) and my quality is fine until i start moving my character or engage in combat spells with high particle effects. My computer is outstanding, and i drop absolutely no frames during game play so it cant be my cpu/gpu. Im using OBS software to stream with and have been searching for a solution to my problem for nearly three hours now ( today alone.) and if you happen to still be actively looking at this post i feel as if it would be my best chances at obtaining a solution. If you could please respond to this, or try to contact me some how to for further explanation or examples i would be very thankful. Im still attempting to stream on a regular basis at twitch.tv/beastondem if you would like to seethe quality for yourself and contact me on there. Thanks

    Reply
    1. Miles V.

      Hi Alex. First of all, Mbps is a measure of bandwidth, i.e. how much data you can send through your pipe at once. Speed is more commonly measured in terms of milliseconds, i.e. how long it takes a signal to reach its destination (and back in many cases). Speedtest.net should give you both of these measurements at rest, but it would be useful to have some kind of resource meter to measure cpu and network activity during streaming. This would tell you exactly how taxed your pipe is relative to its theoretical maximum. I can think of a number of things that could cause slowdown during action sequences, but unfortunately I don’t know a great deal about how Twitch works. I’m assuming since it involves live recording and transmitting, there must be some kind of video transcoding in progress to compress the video for upload. Transcoding a video sequence with lots of motion and variation from frame to frame takes a lot more CPU power than a static scene. It requires more keyframes which lowers the compression level and raises the bitrate which means it takes more bandwidth to transmit while retaining the same picture quality. Even your system wasn’t doing its own transcoding, then the motion/bitrate issue would apply even more because you’d be sending huge amounts of uncompressed video up to Twitch for processing. I’d play with picture quality and compression controls if you have them to see if a lower bitrate stream lags less, generates less network activity, etc. I think the answer here lies in measuring the amount of data passing through your pipe and the amount of CPU power consumed during the action. Also if any of your cores are pegged, you might consider manually setting processor affinity to separate the game from the transcoder; that would keep the two tasks from having to negotiate with each other for CPU time.

      Reply
  5. Valito

    If you happen to still answer questions on here, i have 1.5Mbps upstream and a 15Mbps downstream, I mainly just play games but I want to stream those games to twitch in a higher quality than just Standard Definition. 720p would be fine for me, how much more Bandwidth do you think I will need? My games tend to lag when I stream right now at 720 due to the upstream being dominated.

    Reply
    1. Miles V.

      Hmmm, outbound 720p video could still have variable bandwidth requirements depending on the bitrate of the stream. It should fall somewhere between 2-4Mbps. If you’re getting choppy performance at 1.5Mbps, I’d try bumping it up to 3 and testing before going higher. Also make sure there’s minimal other internet activity on your LAN while doing it.

      Reply
  6. Tech

    How much Download and upload do you need for 30 computers on email,skype and internet.

    Reply
  7. Cosmos

    How much bandwidth do I need to Transmit 100 gigabytles per day with a 240ms delay. The transmission is Point to Point (like a unicast stream), possibly using on one UDP port.

    Reply
    1. Miles V. Post author

      In theory this is simply a matter of mathematics: 100 gigabytes = 102400 megabytes = 819200 megabits. To transmit this much in 24 hours, or 86400 seconds, you would need about 9.5 Mbps upstream bandwidth. These are laboratory figures though. In reality, you’ll probably need closer to 15 Mbps since overhead and reliability issues would prevent you from sustaining your theoretical maximum bandwidth. Don’t take my word for it though; I don’t have enough experience estimating such exact numbers in real world settings. Also, your latency is determined by your proximity to your ISP and the number of hops your signal takes to get there; it’s won’t be affected by your bandwidth.

      Reply
  8. nbradway

    Do you have any recommendations for calculating how much circuit bandwidth is needed from an ISP for a small to medium sized tech business? Say there will be 200 employees who regularly use email, stream media, and browse social media (FB, Twitter, G+, etc..) and will be working mostly during the work week but possibly at odd times.

    The context is I would like to propose a burstable circuit but am having trouble arriving at how to determine what baseline bandwidth is needed.

    Any reads or suggestions would be amazing!

    Reply
  9. Annoytanor

    You should of included a bit on how big a data cap you would need, e.g. 40GB is enough for…looking at your emails and facebook once a day. Also with a 800kb/s connection you can still play Crysis 2 with no lag (~50ms ping) as it only used 20-50kb/s although Minecraft is unplayable.

    Reply
  10. HI-larious

    how current is this list for broadband speeds, does it apply for 2013 technology?

    Reply
    1. Miles V. Post author

      Well, cable speeds in my city now top out at 100 Mbps (up from 50 in 2011), and we’ve got Google Fiber preparing to roll out in select locations, which is totally going to blow the lid off bandwidth availability. I’d add an appropriate tier to my table, except that I can’t yet think of anything that most users (myself included) really need with 100+ megabit service. Nevertheless, it might be sensible to read those figures I put down as ranges closer to their respective maximums (e.g. 5-9 Mbps ~ 8-9 Mbps). In the interest of keeping up with the times :-)

      I think I’ll end up re-doing the table entirely when the bandwidth landscape changes significantly.

      Reply
      1. HI-larious

        Thanks, so I’m gathering that 12Mbps would be sufficent for video conferencing and downloading large files and pictures? Because Direct TV thinks 24Mbps is necessary for the stated duties I just mentioned and feels 12Mbps is not going to cut it. Could it be the company is just trying to upsale?

        Reply
  11. jo

    is 400 kbps enough for

    1)checking and sending emails
    2)facebook
    3)youtube (not bothered if there is only a little buffering — cant tolerate huge buffering!)

    Reply
    1. Miles V.

      Load speeds will be a little sluggish, but since none of those things are time sensitive, I think you’ll be ok as long as you’re patient :-)

      Reply
  12. PuffCaKe

    My internet speed gets less than one mbps. I believe it is less than dialup at 5 – 10 kbps. Yes it is actually that low. I also pay for high-speed cost but only get Sh!t. My internet is also capped at a max use of 500 mb per month. I used over half posting this.
    Gl HF

    Puffy.

    Reply
  13. Jdown

    Good explanation AND FUNNY TOO.

    Reply
  14. Dan Alvarez

    This is by far the best explained and most easy-to-read description of exactly what I was looking for. If this site still exists years down the road, please update it as necessary. IT geeks with communication skills are a rare breed.

    Your writing style and tables make it easy for anyone to understand a concept that, to many, is as foreign as quantum mechanics. My father’s understanding of bandwidth, usage, and an ISP meeting his needs, will increase dramatically thanks to this article.

    Thank you

    Reply
  15. Valentine

    i was wandering is 6 mbps enough for 3 people?
    we mostly use youtube and sometimes SD movies.

    Reply
  16. Worldbuilder

    So – one thing missing here is a discussion of latency vs bandwidth. The culprit isn’t always bandwidth – but can be the wiring inside your house, and how far your house is from the central line (DSL) or cable server.

    Reply
    1. Admin

      That’s true, but it seems like that is rarely something you yourself can adjust. You can’t go to your ISP and just buy better latency; if your ping is crummy, you can switch ISPs and that’s pretty much it…

      Reply
  17. Jess E

    We recently implemented a new system, Saxotech, at work. We now work on a remote PC desktop on our Macs. I do page layout in InDesign through VMware. Our work was going so slowly that we had to go back to the old way of doing things to finish this past week. Saxotech says everything is running smoothly on their end. Our cable provider tells us we have the fastest connection available. Our speed test shows 6.55 (down) and 8.68 (up). I am one of 10 people doing graphics work at the office. Just for comparison, I tested at home and got 27 and 2. Could this be a firewall problem at the office? What do you think a minimum speed requirement would be for 10 graphics people? I guess I should mention several other writers and photographers uploading their work at the same time through Citrix and our FTP. Any suggestions are appreciated I know very little about the technical side of things. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Donald

      Think of each person using vmware as a seperate skype call; you really shouldn’t be using more than 6 vmware sessions on that cable connection since you’re only getting about 6mbps downloads and honestly that’s pushing it.

      Reply
    2. Simballah

      I worked in the newspaper/IT industry for 27 – 1/2 years and know a few people at Saxotech (might apply there again someday but have not worked directly for them). I worked for a major metropolitan newspaper which did not use Saxotech products (we used CCI Newsgate and NewsDesk) I was a Systems Editor and therefore responsible for the technical side of the newsroom and later was pulled into IT again to be a Senior Systems Analyst.

      The fact that you use Citrix may mean that you connect to corporate servers outside your building. If you have to call IT and they are in another city, that is a clue. This might mean there are more than one connection in question and more than one firewall etc.

      We had 250,000 circulation back in the day and are less than 1/3rd of that now. We used fractional T1 lines and worked between 3 or 4 newspapers in house and used Citrix to access several systems from several states away. Citrix eats a chunk of bandwidth and makes a lot of traffic even with load balancers and round-robin server clusters on the other end.

      There is a lot more to it but sum it up to say I have a 25/25 FIOS connection at home and sometimes on an older PC there are streaming issues with YouTube or Netflix.

      Now after all that rambling here’s what you do. Have your Systems Editor talk to the IT guy that handles the network and firewalls. He will know the topology of the networks involved and can see what needs to be addressed locally and he can contact corporate if they are not local and Saxotech support to have them see if everything meets the minimum requirements for their setup.

      However, using VMWARE on a Mac to run a PC running InDesign is sort of like wearing a lead swim suit. I’m not sure why that is being done but InDesign can be a BEAR and add in Citrix and virtual OSs and so on and you have a mess.

      Sounds like you need a long-haired, tights and cape-wearing, journalist friendly IT guy with an IT/newspaper background… :-)

      FWIW I am unemployed and will probably end up a greeter at a Walmart in central Florida so be nice to any long-haired blue apron-wearing geek types because I still fix computers on the side ;-)

      I hope this diatribe at least helps a little.

      -30

      Reply
      1. DoorknockerDan

        I wish there an upvote system on this comment board. Your “diatribe” was very informative.

        FWIW I would hire you. Too bad I’m also unemployed, and can only fake it when it comes to fixing computers (I rely on guys like you who share their knowledge with the internet). See you in Walmart, my friend. Best of luck landing that dream job.

        Reply
  18. Joey

    how many Mbps do I need for PS3 to play online game, such as Call Of Duty MW3..?

    Reply
    1. Miles V.

      Online games actually take comparatively little bandwidth; it’s necessary to insure the largest possible player base. Your typical first-person shooter will not take more than 100kbps. I list them in the 1-2Mbps section to allow a wide margin of error/interference/congestion because of how important it is for games to always have exactly as much bandwidth as they need. Say you’re on the PS3 and suddenly your anti-virus on your computer decides to update itself. If your computer takes up enough bandwidth during this time that your MW3 can’t get its necessary 100kbps, then your latency will go through the roof and you’ll probably fail the mission pretty fast. If possible, set up QoS controls on your router to insure that this doesn’t happen.

      Reply
  19. Felix

    I have a question here. I have a 400 kbps Internet connection on my server computer (Win Xp). Now this connection is shared between 5 computers on my Network. Suppose say, I want to restrict the Internet speed to each computer….Can I do it? Is there any option ( in XP ) or any freeware s/w
    [ ex : say I want to give 20kbps to Computer1 ; 30 kbps to Computer 2 & so on ]

    Reply
    1. Miles V.

      You could limit the bandwidth usage in software on each of the computers, but you’d have to install a utility to each one of them and configure separately. I haven’t used any of these tools myself so I can’t recommend one over another, but there are a number of free ones. Search for “traffic shaping” or “bandwidth throttling” and you’ll come up with some options.

      The more elegant way to handle the situation is for the router itself to impose the bandwidth restrictions. Not all routers have this capability in in their stock firmware, but you can start by looking for QoS controls. If your router doesn’t have this function, but is capable of running custom firmware like DD-WRT, that may be your best option. They provide bandwidth prioritization on a per-host and per-protocol basis right out of the box and with a little command-line action, they can do a lot more.

      Reply
  20. Alice

    Informative…and funny. Thanks.

    Reply
  21. Carlos

    I have a 9 Mbit connection but youtube lags a lot. I can’t even watch lower quality videos (360p and lower) without a pause or ten in the middle.

    The effect is made worse when playing full screen. I don’t know why because it seems my computer would be the one handling the video whether it’s full screen or regular.

    Other sites seem to work well but youtube just stinks.

    This happens on all my browsers (Chrome, safari, IE) and cross platform (mac, Windows laptop)

    Even been having problems with youtube at school which has a 5 mBit connection

    Is Something wrong with YouTube?

    Reply
    1. Miles V. Post author

      I would first test your overall connection quality (in either location). Go to speedtest.net and make sure you’re getting your full 9 megabits reliably. Then do a ping test in a command prompt like `ping -n 100 google.com` to make sure you’re not dropping traffic. Your response times should be less than 100ms and you should never get a timeout. Then I would also test specifically streaming video on other sites; see if you can use Dailymotion or Hulu without delays. If you can confirm that your connection is good but streaming video is bad across the board, it might indicate that your ISP is throttling your bandwidth for video. If it remains a problem only with YouTube, then the problem is likely on their end and there’s very little you can do about it. I’ve been told that it can help to use different DNS servers, but I can’t report from personal experience. Google’s is 8.8.8.8 and is usually pretty fast. Plug it into your network config and see if it makes a difference.

      Reply
  22. angel

    i just want to get a little virification, the mbps needed are on a monthly basis, or a daily? i need to switch internet providers bad and i guess i need to know so i get enough bandwidth since all the providers in my area have limits and overages and stuff…

    Reply
    1. Miles V. Post author

      The bandwidth numbers I’m reporting here are not amounts of data, they are speeds. Speed is measured in mbps (megabits per second) and affects how quickly pages load but not how many pages you can load each month without overages. Most ISPs allow huge amounts of data to be transferred per month, usually 200-500 gigabytes. The only time you’re likely to run into a data limit is if you’re looking at a mobile data plan like with a mobile WiFi hotspot or data card; they tend to limit data use to 1-5 gigabytes per month so watch out for that!

      Reply
  23. Jess

    I have a question if anyone can answer: I have a 12mb download and 2mb upload through my cable provider. When I run a connection test on Xbox to stream a HD movie it tells me my speed is not fast enough. Even some movies when I stream on SD I get poor picture quality. Xbox tells they don’t why. My cable says its not them. No one has an answer. I should mention, I upgraded my router to a Netgear N600 to handle mutliple users, so I dont think thats the problem. When I run speed tests at the time I am getting this problem, its comes back at just under 12mb. The Xbox is running wireless. But I can also mention we have a PS3 that is direct wired to the router and this also has lag for online gaming. Thanks in advance for any usable feedback.

    Reply
    1. Miles V. Post author

      Hi Jess, it sounds like you may not be getting the full 12 megabits you’re paying for, at least not on the game systems. The first thing I would do is run a bandwidth test on the XBox, the PS3, AND a computer (just for the sake of comparison) by going to http://www.speedtest.net. If it turns out that the XBox IS actually getting 12 megabits (or close to it) and still can’t do HD streaming, I would try wiring it to the router and then even wiring it directly to the cable modem just to make sure the other methods aren’t introducing any unusual amount of latency. Also be sure to check for software/firmware updates to your XBox and your router, just in case this is a glitch that’s already been fixed.

      Reply
  24. Scott

    Thanks for posting this was helpfull

    Reply
  25. Travesty

    Awesome explanation, love the porn references haha

    Reply
  26. Nightshade

    Perfect, and amusing, explaination. Thank you.

    Reply
  27. Lee Binder

    Thank you Miles, very helpful!

    Reply
  28. sandro ore

    how much bandwidth do you think a website like groupon use?

    Reply
  29. Electra Havermeyer-Webb

    Great tables – a perfect “technology for dummies” explanation of bandwidth choices.

    Reply

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