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Minimum connection speeds for common online activities

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Saturday, 19 October, 2019

In the beginning, internet connection speeds were fairly egalitarian.

Unless you were able to afford a fancy T1 or ISDN line, you had to use a dial-up connection which topped out at 56,600 bits per second, or 56K.

In reality, consumers often endured actual connection speeds at a tenth of this theoretical maximum, meaning webpage data downloaded at less than 6Kbps.

That was fine in an age where Comic Sans seemed futuristic, and a four-minute music video took two hours to download. In two separate parts. At a grainy 600×400 resolution.

Nowadays, our palates are rather more sophisticated.

And as broadband infrastructure has evolved, so has a spectrum of required and recommended connection speeds.

A few poor souls are still stuck on dial-up services, while residents in areas equipped with full fibre broadband are able to enjoy connection speeds of up to 900Mbps.

These lucky few will be able to do pretty much anything online without experiencing problems.

But what about the rest of us?

What are the minimum connection speeds you’ll need to perform common online activities?

Surfing the web

Given today’s use of Cascading Style Sheets and plugins, you’ll struggle to view any webpage across a dial-up connection.

You really need a connection speed of at least 100Kbps. And pages which automatically play video files (such as tabloid newspaper websites) place a far higher burden on your line.

Streaming on-demand content

Netflix stipulates a minimum connection speed of 500Kbps for viewing Standard Definition content, though it recommends at least 1.5Mbps to enjoy content properly.

High Definition videos require a connection of 5Mbps upwards, though lower resolution SD alternatives are usually available.

Arch-rival Amazon quotes identical figures for its own streaming services, while Now TV demands a minimum 2.5Mbps connection speed.

Gaming

Covering a broad spectrum of activities, this is perhaps the most difficult online activity to ascribe a minimum required speed to.

Aim for a download speed of at least 3Mbps and an upload speed of 1Mbps.

Speaking of which, upload speeds also have a significant bearing on other activities…

Video calling

ISPs prioritise consumer connections to be better at downloads than uploads, because we consume existing material more than we publish it.

Video streaming is an exception, since every participant should be receiving comparable quality audio and video footage.

Skype requires upload and download speeds of 512 and 128Kbps respectively to function, while rival platform Zoom demands 600Kbps both ways for SD video streams.

Uploading files

It’s perhaps disingenuous to suggest a minimum connection speed is necessary for uploading documents into the cloud or sending emails.

However, attempting to do so on a dial-up connection will effectively paralyse the line for any other activities.

If upload speeds are below 100Kbps, you’ll be waiting several minutes for a single camera phone JPG to sync. Uploading social media videos really needs at least a 1Mbps upload speed.

Neil Cumins author picture

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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!

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