What broadband speed do I need for streaming, gaming and more?
Not sure which connection speed is right for you? Read our explainer on broadband speeds for Netflix, gaming and streaming movies.
In recent times, households everywhere have seen their home internet put under serious strain, with Covid restrictions keeping lots of people holed up at home, with multiple devices being used at any one time. TVs, phones, consoles, tablets: they all take a toll on your bandwidth.
And we know that internet speed is something that's likely important to you. In an official RadioTimes.com survey, we polled over 500 of our readers, and 75% of the participants indicated that it's important they have the fastest connection speed possible.
So it’s important to choose your broadband package wisely, and find one with a connection speed that matches your household’s usage. Choose too slow a service, and you might find that your life descends into a nightmare of juddering TV shows, buffering wheels and lots of arguments with your co-habitants. Choose too fast a service, and all those problems will go away – but you might be wasting money on a service that’s far beyond your needs.
Most broadband providers offer three broadband packages, each with an average speed listed in megabits per second, or Mbps (these aren’t to be confused with megabytes, which are eight times bigger). Here are the three main categories, followed by a top package that offers that connection speed.
- 0-12Mbps – The most basic broadband packages usually offer speeds in this range, sometimes via the old ADSL connection, though it’s being increasingly inched out by fibre broadband.
- 25-50Mbps – Most mid-range packages offer these connection speeds.
- 50-100Mbps – It’s in this area that you’ll see the most pricy broadband packages.
Virgin Media has also recently released its own all-in-one TV streaming box called Virgin Media Stream. Starting at £28 a month, Stream allows its broadband customers to pick and swap out streaming subscriptions such as Netflix and Disney+ each month.
It’s worth noting that while you’ll hear phrases like ‘superfast’ and ‘ultrafast’ a lot, they aren’t official terms, in that there’s no consensus from Ofcom or the government on what connection speeds define them. It’s perhaps worth noting that according to this parliamentary webpage, Ofcom recognises ‘decent’ broadband as 10Mbps.
So which service provider is right for you? Read on for our in-depth guide to picking the right broadband speed.
What broadband speed do I need for streaming films and TV?
Well, this is all about which format you like to stream your content, which can range from anything between Standard Definition, HD, Full HD and 4K. We’ll go into how many megabits per second (Mbps) you’ll need for each of them in just a second – firstly, though, an important disclaimer.
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When we list the required Mbps for an activity, we’re talking about the bandwidth needed for this standalone activity. A crucial part of choosing the right broadband speed is being able to guess how much internet activity is going on at the same time in your house.
Consider the number of occupants in your house. Say you only have the one television in the house, and you watch non-4K content – you might think you’ll only need a basic package. But think about how many people in the home own a smartphone: don’t forget that these are streaming devices. And is anyone working on a laptop or home computer? It all stacks up.
Broadband speed for Netflix, NOW TV and more
For non-HD content, these services typically need anywhere between 1.5 and 3Mbps of bandwidth, and for HD, around 2.5 to 5Mbps. This is good news for people who live alone, or couples who don’t do much multiple streaming – the cheaper packages should have you covered. But 4K is a different matter entirely – we’ll dive into that in a bit.
Broadband speed for a smart TV
A smart television is simply one that can be connected to your home’s Wi-Fi and turned into a device that can browse internet content, and stream from all the usual apps. Each TV brand uses a different smart platform, and some come with more features than others – to find out more, you can take a look at our what is a smart TV article.
Since you can adjust the resolution you stream in from your TV, there’s no set optimum connection speed for using a smart television. If you want to stream content, but you don’t own a smart TV, you can always pick up an Amazon Fire TV Stick or Roku Express.
Broadband speed for streaming in HD
As mentioned, connection speeds of 2.5 to 5Mbps should be fine for streaming HD content. Choosing between a standard and mid-range broadband connection speed will probably boil down to how many people you think will be streaming at the same time in your household.
Broadband speed for streaming in 4K
Here’s where much more is asked of your broadband – to stream uninterrupted 4K TV, you’ll need a connection speed of around 25Mbps. That’s a lot of bandwidth, but after all, Ultra High Definition offers you a lot of picture detail – to find out more, read our what is 4K TV explainer.
Certainly, if there’s more than one 4K-ready device under your roof, we would steer you in the direction of most ISP's (internet service provider's) mid-range packages. Don’t forget that many leading smartphones now can stream in 4K – and that’s a trend that’s only going in one direction. There’s going to be nothing more annoying than being forced to downscale the picture quality of whatever you’re watching on your 4K TV because it won’t buffer properly.
What broadband speed do I need for gaming?
We know that a portion of our readers are avid gamers: the results of our RadioTimes.com survey indicate that 28% of participants use their home broadband for gaming, with 27% having a console connected to the wi-fi.
This is a real rabbit-hole of a question. Most solo player online gaming requires a fairly meagre bandwidth of 3Mbps or thereabouts. But online gaming is growing far more complex, especially with the rise of MMO (massive multiplayer online) games like World of Warcraft. In these games, often thousands of players connect to the service, which is more taxing on your connection speed.
More draining on your broadband still are FPS games (first-person shooters), the most popular example being Call of Duty. With these ultra-fast, reflex-driven games, lag-free gameplay is vital, and it relies on all participating players having a low ‘ping rate’. That’s the subject of a whole other article, but we’ll say that gamers searching for peace of mind will need a connection speed of around 30Mbps.
Do I need fibre broadband?
Fibre broadband was introduced to the UK in 2008 and is now the prevalent form of internet connection. In contrast to the standard ADSL connection, which uses the traditional copper telephone to relay data, fibre broadband sends that information via optic cables that are faster and more reliable.
Lots of ISPs now only offer fibre broadband, although some providers still include an ADSL connection in their basic packages. Unless you’re saving significant money, we would advise you to choose fibre.
Here’s an interesting fact though: most fibre broadband packages actually employ both types of connection. This is called an FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) connection, meaning the fibre optic cable runs from the telephone exchange to your nearest street cabinet, and the connection is completed by a length of standard copper wire from there to your home.
But FFTP (fibre to the premises) is on the rise, currently led by Virgin Media. This sends the fibre cable straight into your home, and as you would probably imagine, makes the connection much speedier. With the growing affordability of such ‘superfast’ connections, we think it’s fair to say that fibre is the way to go if you’re seeking out new broadband in 2021.
Should I switch for faster broadband?
That depends firstly on what stage you’re at in your current contract, and just how happy you are with your current provider. Hopefully, our guide has assured you that you needn’t upgrade to a higher speed service just for its own sake.
Instead, we want you to make as informed a decision as possible. Think about the devices being used in your household, and calculate how much bandwidth they’ll require at the busiest times.
How accurate are broadband speeds?
In 2019, Ofcom introduced a new series of rules around the marketing of home broadband. In these new stipulations from the telecoms regulator, broadband providers have to be upfront about the MGALS (minimum guaranteed access line speed) of their services at the sign-up stage, whereas before that information had to be requested.
If your home broadband is routinely demonstrated not to run at that speed, then you should be liable to exit your contract without a fee. If you’re currently in this situation, it’s definitely worth taking a look at Ofcom’s small print before you proceed with a grievance. These aren’t enforced rules: Ofcom’s code of ethics is voluntary, though a number of major ISPs have joined, including BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, Plusnet and EE.
For more on broadband, head to our explainer on how long it takes to switch broadband providers.