Obviously you want your home Wi-Fi to be fast. But what is “fast” exactly? And more importantly, what is fast enough? Anything that is actively painful is obviously too slow, but here is how to do a more in-depth analysis of your speed to determine, mathematically, where you stand.
First, a clarification of terms: there’s a difference between what you generally experience as “speed” and “bandwidth.” The bandwidth of your network is the maximum amount of data that your entire home can handle downloading (or uploading) at once. The speed of the internet on a given device is the rate you download (or upload) something from the internet. Bandwidth is the size of the pipe, while speed is the, well, speed of the data flowing through it. Both are generally measured in Megabits or Gigabits per second (M/Gbps).
To check the speed of your connection, all you have to do is run a speed test on your device. We recommend going to SpeedTest or Google’s own speed test. It takes less than 30 seconds and it’s free.
Once you run a speed test, it will let you know your download and upload speeds in Mbps. The download speed is the more important of the two stats for streaming and other tasks and will almost certainly be higher than your upload speeds. Upload speeds are important though, for things like gaming and video chat, but the demands on your network are generally much lower and more situational.
The results you get are a good rule of thumb, but are dependent on how many devices on your network are using a share of the bandwidth. If you’ve got 7 Xboxes all currently downloading games, your number is going to show more of a worse case scenario. If the only thing on your Wi-Fi is your phone, you are going to see the absolute best-case highs.
• A 25 Mbps download speed should be your first barometer. It’s a decent speed for small homes with one or two people, as it’ll be fine for using a few devices to stream Netflix, watch 1080 YouTube videos, FaceTime calling, play online video games, and browse the web. If you’re streaming 4K video and you’re worried about lag, a 25 Mbps internet speed should be the minimum.
• A speed between 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps is pretty average for homes with three or four people. If it’s a household that frequently streams 4K video and does a lot of competitive online gaming, you want a speed that’s closer to 100 Mbps.
• A speed of over 100 Mbps is best for households that have five or more people living in it, or for people who just want really fast and reliable internet. You can have a speed that’s over a 1,000 Mbps, which is great but admittedly overkill for most homes. That is, unless you have multiple people playing online games and using the internet for strenuous things at once.
How to make it faster
When it comes to internet speed, one thing to consider is the proximity of your device to your router. The further away from the router, the worse its Wi-Fi connection and the slower its speed is going to be. A good way to see the difference is to run a speed test (see above) right by your router and then another speed test where you need a fast Wi-Fi connection. If there’s a stark difference, I’d recommend investing in a Wi-Fi extender if you have a small home, or a mesh router system like Nest Wifi or eero if you have a larger home.
The more devices connected to Wi-Fi and running at the same time, the more of your internet’s bandwidth gets subdivided, which could hurt the internet speed of any given device. You can check how many devices are connected to your internet and how much bandwidth each is taking via your router’s settings (most new routers have companion apps that make this really easy).
The other good thing is that most routers these days come with dual-band technology. This allows them to set up two frequency channels, one 2.4GHz (lower speed, greater range Wi-Fi) and one 5GHz (higher speed, shorter-range Wi-Fi), and you can control which devices are connected to each network. In addition to freeing up some bandwidth, connecting devices that need the best Wi-Fi connection to the 5GHz network should ensure that they get the best internet speed.