What is bandwidth and how much do you need?

Woman using multiple internet devices

The average American household has access to more than 10 electronic devices. While this has made life more convenient in many ways, it also means a number of devices competing for the internet at the same time. For example, you might want to stream your favorite videos online while also checking your email on a laptop or tablet; or, another person in your household might want to play games online while another member video conferences for work.

Your internet connection and the maximum amount of data it can transfer can have a significant impact on your internet experience. Without enough bandwidth, your connected devices won't be able to accomplish everything you want.

To understand the importance of bandwidth, this article will explain what bandwidth is, how it's measured and how you can make sure you have just the right amount of bandwidth to do everything you want online.

What is bandwidth?

The definition of bandwidth is simply the amount of data that your connection can handle at a time. A lot of people confuse bandwidth for internet speed, which is how fast data is received and downloaded. To make bandwidth easier to understand, imagine that you have a steady stream of cars approaching a tollbooth. If there are only one or two booths open, that stream of cars will take significantly more time to get through the toll plaza. It creates a bit of a bottleneck. In other words, it limits how much internet access you have because only so much data can pass through the connection in a given amount of time.

On the other hand, if you have six toll booths open, that same stream of cars will get through the plaza much faster. With internet connections in this situation, you see better bandwidth speeds. The more available bandwidth you have, the better your devices can access the internet and the better experience you will have.

How is bandwidth measured?

Bandwidth tells you how much data your internet connection can handle per second. This measurement can be in bits, kilobits, megabits or gigabits, depending on its capacity. For example, you might see a particular internet package written as the number of megabits or gigabits per second with the abbreviation of Mbps or Gbps.

This measurement tells you how well your connection can handle the bandwidth requirements of your connected devices. If you want to have a quality internet experience on a number of different devices or have internet needs that call for a lot of data, having a high enough bandwidth to manage the demand will be critical.

An example bandwidth measurement

Bandwidth can vary considerably between different internet plans. The capacity you need will vary depending on what you want to do with your internet. You will want to keep a few important data points in mind to help you evaluate your bandwidth needs.

  • It takes about 1 MB to load a website.
  • It takes an estimated 51 MB per hour to stream audio.
  • Expect to need about 500 MB per hour to stream a standard video.
  • Finally, you will likely need 1.6 GB per hour if you want to stream a high-definition video.

Given the wide-range of data needed for different types of internet tasks, it's clear that what might be considered "good," "acceptable" and "poor" bandwidth will vary depending on your internet needs.

For some households, 25 Mbps is plenty to do a variety of online tasks with minimal interruptions. It's also the minimum download speed needed for a plan to be considered broadband internet. However, other households may need much less or much more bandwidth. For example, if your household likes to stream movies and engage online on multiple devices simultaneously, 100 Mbps might better serve you — this is relatively high bandwidth. For even higher bandwidth, though, there's fiber-optic internet, which offers the fastest speeds available on the market.

To get a better idea of bandwidth requirements, check out Frontier's high-speed and Fiber Internet plans. Availability varies by location.

0–10 Mbps
  • Good for:
  •  Checking email
  •  Browsing websites
  •  Browsing social media
10–50 Mbps
  • Good for:
  •  Connecting multiple devices
  •  Streaming videos
  •  Online gaming for one player
50+ Mbps
  • Good for:
  •  Streaming videos in HD
  •  Online gaming for multiple users
  •  Video chatting with friends

Bandwidth tests

Bandwidth tests allow you to determine the bandwidth of the internet reaching your home by monitoring the data transfer rate. Knowing your current bandwidth can help you evaluate the internet's performance, when to upgrade to a plan with greater capacity and your household's data usage.

You can also use the tests to make sure the service you receive aligns with the promises of your internet service provider. You might sometimes get speeds that are slightly lower than promised because your ISP has some flexibility — plans generally only guarantee speeds up to the listed capacity. If there's only a mild discrepancy between the actual speed and the promised speed from your ISP, your service fulfills what it promises. However, if you notice a large discrepancy between the advertised bandwidth and the actual bandwidth you're getting, you'll be able to speak with your ISP to help resolve the issue.

There are a number of speed tests you can use to gauge the power of your network connection. These include:

Reported bandwidth may differ based on the test used, but the results should generally be similar.

How much bandwidth do you need?

The bandwidth you'll need for your household will vary considerably depending on the number of people and devices that need to share the network and the type of activities everyone likes to do online. Someone who regularly streams high-definition videos, for example, will need much more than a person who really only checks their email each evening.

To determine the best bandwidth based on your needs, make a list of the activities you like to do online, such as:

  • Streaming shows and videos
  • Playing online games
  • Uploading and downloading documents
  • Uploading and sharing photos
  • Video conferencing
  • Listening to podcasts or other audio streaming options

Gaining a more complete picture of the activities you want the internet to support will help you determine the bandwidth needed for your home. In addition to your preferred activities, consider the number of users who will also use the network and their level of internet usage.

Now that you have a general idea of your bandwidth requirements, you can start to search for the right internet plan. For example, Frontier® offers multiple internet plans to meet a diverse range of users and budgets.

  • Frontier Fiber Internet: With our Fiber Internet, you can pretty much do whatever you want online. Select fiber-optic internet plans even offer symmetrical download and upload speeds, meaning you can stream and surf to your heart's content without data caps or overages.
  • Frontier Internet: Don't need as much bandwidth? Check out this plan. This is a nice middle ground if you want to stream your favorite shows and movies or play games.
  • Frontier High-Speed Internet: With these speeds, you can stream videos across multiple devices in 4K resolution. All of Frontier's broadband internet plans also have no data caps or overages and come with a free Wi-Fi router. You don't have to pay a lot to get the internet you deserve.

To get even more out of your bandwidth, it's often better to directly connect to the modem with an ethernet cable rather than relying on a Wi-Fi connection.

Availability varies by location. Enter your address to find out which internet plans are available in your area. Max speeds are wired speeds. Wi-Fi average, and actual speeds may vary. For details, see frontier.com/internet disclosures.

Get the bandwidth you need from Frontier

When it comes to selecting an internet service provider and internet plan for your household, it's important to have fast, reliable service. You should also be able to trust that the bandwidth you're paying for is what you're getting.

For an optimal internet experience, you can't go wrong with Frontier Internet. We have several internet plans to suit a range of bandwidth needs and offer the flexibility to change or cancel service at any time. So, whether you only want to browse social media every so often or need enough bandwidth to support work and school from home, we've got you covered. Check availability to see what Frontier offers in your area.