What types of home Internet options do you need?
Find out what type of internet connection you need
by Kate Williams, Ph.D.
ConsumerAffairs Research Team
Nobody wants to wait forever to get online. Whether you’re surfing the web, streaming your favorite TV show, checking your email or gaming, you need fast, reliable internet service. Here’s what you need to know about the different types of internet service options.
How is bandwidth measured?
Bandwidth. You've heard the word, but do you know how much of it you need to stream your favorite shows on Netflix while uploading your pics on Instagram?
Put simply, bandwidth measures how long it takes for something to download from the internet onto your computer or internet-enabled device. The more things you download, the more bandwidth you need. If you have multiple users in your home who are streaming, gaming, checking Facebook or doing anything else online, you’re going to need internet service with a lot of bandwidth since it’s shared among all of your devices.
Bandwidth is measured in bits per second (bps), and files are measured in bytes. One byte equals eight bits, so one megabyte (MB) is eight megabits (Mbps). That means that a file that is 1 MB will take eight seconds to download if your connection is 1 Mbps. (For reference, an MP3 file is usually around 5 MB, and a movie can be anywhere from 1,000 to over 5,000 MB).
The more stuff you do online, the higher Mbps you’re going to need so you can download, stream and game without waiting for everything to load.
What internet speed do you need?
The speed of internet you need depends on what you do when you’re online. Sites like highspeedinternet.com can tell you how fast your internet needs to be based on how you use it and recommend local service providers that can provide it.
For general internet use: 5-10 Mbps
If you’re the type of person who only uses the internet to check email and surf the web, you can get by with 5 or less Mbps. If you like to stream videos occasionally, or if you have multiple devices set up that browse the web, you should get service that is 5-10 Mbps.
For streaming videos: 5-25 Mbps
Netflix requires you to have an internet connection of at least .5 Mbps to stream anything, and recommends having a connection of at least 3 Mbps for standard definition streaming. If you want to watch shows and movies in high definition, you should have 5-25 Mbps.
For gaming: 25-40+ Mbps
Gaming takes up a lot of bandwidth, so you’re going to need high speed internet service. Especially if someone in your household is a gamer and other people are using the internet for streaming or general use. If you’re into gaming, you’re going to need internet service with at least 25-40+ Mbps.
In general, faster internet is better for streaming and gaming. Keep in mind, the Mbps you pay for is the maximum Mbps you will receive. You might end up getting slower speeds during busy times of the day and when multiple users in your home are online, so if you’re an avid internet user, you should probably go with the fastest speed available in your area.
What are your internet connection options?
Before you can figure out which internet provider to use, you need to know what type of service you want. Here’s your cheat sheet:
Once the only way to get online, dial-up is seldom offered anymore. Dial-up service links you to the internet through your landline. It can be a viable option for those who either don’t have access to other forms of internet because of their location and those who hardly ever go online and want the cheapest option available.
Most cable and telephone companies offer broadband (short for broad bandwidth) internet service. This is among the fastest internet options out there, since it relies on several data channels to transmit information. DSL, fiber, wireless, satellite and cable connections can be all be broadband.
Wireless connections are made through a modem that may connect to a broadband DSL, cable, satellite or fiber line, usually placed in a central location inside your home. The model picks up internet signals and sends them to internet-enabled devices in or near your home. Your connection is always on, and it can be accessed by anyone within range of your modem. Keep your wireless network secure from intruders by securing it with a password.
Digital subscriber line (DSL) is wired internet that transmits data over traditional copper telephone lines that are already installed in homes or offices. Unlike dial-up, DSL users can still use their landline while they’re connected to the internet. Common in both businesses and homes, broadband DSL transmission speeds can go as high as millions of Mbps. (But not all DSL connections are broadband.)
Cable internet transmits service through cable TV lines (usually given to you by your service provider). You’ll need a cable modem to pick up the internet signal, which you can buy on your own or rent from your service provider.
Satellite internet also uses a modem to transmit the internet signal through your satellite dish. This can be a better option than dial-up for rural customers who don’t have access to broadband connections. Satellite connections are typically faster than dial up but slower than the other options. You can usually bundle a satellite internet and TV package to save some money every month.
Fiber internet service wins for having the fastest speeds available. Internet is transmitted over fiber-optic lines, with download speeds as fast as 1 gigabyte per second. It’s expensive to install fiber-optic cables, which is why most cities aren’t equipped for it yet.
What if you live in a rural area?
A lot of remote, rural areas don’t have access to high-speed internet. If you live in a rural area and need to get online, you have a few options.
If you live in a remote area that doesn’t have access to broadband internet, you might have to settle for dial-up connection. In fact, three percent of Americans (roughly 2.1 million people) rely on dial-up service through AOL, which was acquired by Verizon in 2015.
If you have to use dial-up, take comfort in knowing you’re spending less on internet than people who use broadband, satellite or wireless. AOL costs around $20 a month, compared with the average price tag of $78 that people pay each month for a wireless or broadband connection. And if you’re the type of person who only uses the internet for web browsing and checking your email, you won’t really notice a difference in speed between dial-up and broadband.
Satellite internet is an alternative to cable if you’re in a rural area and are sick of listening to the sound of your dial-up connection slowly booting up. Because they don’t require underground cables or access to a nearby provider, satellite dishes can be put anywhere. You won’t necessarily get great internet streaming, but it should surpass what you’re getting with a dial-up connection.
If you want smoother video streaming and online gaming, spring for the better (i.e. more expensive) package with higher Mbps. You might be able to save some money by bundling an internet and TV package together from your satellite provider, with prices ranging from around $95 to over $200 per month.
Whether you’re moving into a new place or just need to switch your internet service provider, know what type of service you need. Doing a little research to make sure you're getting enough internet speed for your new home will cut out a lot of potential frustration. Consider your household’s internet activity. Do you stream shows and movies? How many devices do you have? Do you do any gaming? Once you’ve got that info, find a provider who can get you the best price for the speed you require.
- 7/26/17 Last Updated
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