How fast do I need my broadband to be?

There’s no definitive answer to the question of how fast should broadband be, but it’s possible to calculate minimum requirements fairly easily.

Monday, 30 May, 2022

There are many areas of confusion surrounding domestic internet provision, which only those steeped in the industry fully understand.

These include the technical limitations imposed by different line materials, the propensity for WiFi to cause (and experience) interference, and the significance of nodes on a network.

Then there’s the question of how fast should broadband be, to ensure a dependable and satisfactory service.

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer isn’t necessarily ‘as fast as the connection will allow’.

In many cases, a slower (and more affordable) connection will be quite sufficient.

How fast should broadband be to support key services?

If you only need internet connectivity for occasional or basic use, an ADSL connection of 11Mbps ought to be enough.

This downloads up to 11 million bits of data per second, with upload speeds hovering around 1Mbps.

That will cause momentary delays in loading web pages, sending and receiving emails with attachments and posting social media content, though it shouldn’t become too intrusive.

You’ll be able to stream standard definition video content without issue, though multiple people might struggle to access streams at the same time.

If this is a staple activity in your household, or if you’re fond of app-based gaming, it may be preferable to look for a Fibre to the Cabinet connection instead.

Fibre optic cables transmit data to the nearest pavement-mounted exchange cabinet, before phone lines complete the journey into your home at speeds between 35 and 65Mbps.

This is fine for HD streaming, multiple people being online at the same time, significant file uploads and the regular use of cloud storage/mirroring platforms like OneDrive.

Gaming should run smoothly at these speeds, with flagship games including Destiny 2 drawing down a few hundred megabytes of data per hour, rather than hundreds of megabits per second.

(For reference, there are eight bits in a byte).

Even so, at peak times, avid gamers might benefit from full fibre broadband.

Full fibre speeds start at around 100Mbps, reaching 1Gbps in well-connected regions.

However, this infrastructure is intended to be future-proof rather than necessary right now. It’s hard to think of many existing technologies requiring gigabit connectivity.

Even 4K video streaming only uses around 100Mbps of bandwidth, and the plethora of Internet of Things devices in a modern home collectively consume just a few megabits more.

What about household size?

Again, this has less of an effect than you might expect in determining how fast should broadband be.

Even if you have three teenagers living at home, one might be out while another plays an offline game and the third surfs the web. Their impact won’t be as great as you’d expect.

Other than niche setups like student flatshares, extra people don’t necessarily require a huge increase in available broadband bandwidth.

Plus, there are plenty of ways to reduce internet bandwidth consumption, as we’ve previously outlined.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!