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Best Internet Speeds for Streaming Guide

We feel the need. . . the need for the right internet speed.

First take

It doesn’t matter how fancy-pants your smart TV or gaming console is: if your internet speed isn’t up to snuff, you’ve got a one-way ticket to Buffer City.

When you’re deciding on an internet plan, it’s important to first assess what you’ll be using that internet connection for. Are you a Netflix binge-watcher, or more of a Spotify sing-a-longer? Do you live to stream live sports, or can you make do with watching the replay on demand?

Your answers to these questions will determine the speed you need . . . and the price you’ll pay for it.

While Xfinity is our overall winner, with plans that meet the needs of multiple people, AT&T comes in a close second, especially for multi-device and HD streaming households.

What internet speed do you need for streaming?

Spoiler alert: streaming can hog a lot of bandwidth

ActivitySpeed
Streaming music96 Kbps–0.5 Mbps
Streaming SD video1.5–3.0 Mbps
Streaming HD video5.0–8.0 Mbps
Streaming 4K video15–25 Mbps
Streaming live TV5.0–25 Mbps
Streaming live gaming4.5–6.0 Mbps

The speed you need for a quality experience will change dramatically based on how you stream and even what you stream. Streaming internet radio or other music apps are low-cost, low-bandwidth activities, whereas those of us looking to cut the cord completely will need our internet to do a lot more heavy lifting.

Different services and devices also require different minimum speed thresholds. Netflix alone has three tiers of speed requirements: 3 Mbps for standard definition streaming, 5 Mbps for HD quality, and 25 Mbps for Ultra HD or 4K streaming.

Most streaming activities fall within 5–10 Mbps for a single device, but it’s important to multiply that speed by the number of devices you expect to have connected to your internet.

For example, if you want to stream your Hulu + Live TV content from your living room and bedroom TVs at the same time, your speed will need to be at least 50 Mbps. And don’t forget any other devices that you may use just for surfing the web (because Instagram waits for no one).

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How many streams do you use at a time?

Data hogs, unite! For those of us who stream our Monday Night Football while simultaneously tracking our fantasy team stats and video chatting with our league-mates, it’s important to know that more devices = more bandwidth. So before that Hail Mary pass gets caught in the Buffering Wheel of Doom, make sure your speed is up to snuff.

How do you check your internet speed?

Is your internet as speedy as a hare, or is it living more of that tortoise lifestyle? If you’re not sure, it’s simple to figure out.

For the most accurate results, you’ll want to be connected directly to your router rather than using your home Wi-Fi. Grab an Ethernet cable and plug your laptop right into your router. If you’re using a desktop computer, you’re likely already set.

Next, close out any other activities or programs on your computer. (Yes, that means all 47 tabs you have open.) You want the purest measure of your internet’s speed, without interference from anything else trying to use it to function.

Then, find an online speed testing service, such as HighSpeedInternet.com. This service uses your location to access internet services around the globe and find the best one to test your connection. Most major internet providers and streaming services also offer online speed tests of their own, including Spectrum and AT&T.

You can also check your speed directly from your streaming device or service. Go into your device or service’s Settings menu and look for an option like “test internet connection” (for example, Netflix’s menu says, “Check your Network”). Then follow the on-screen prompts from there.

The test will download a set of files and then calculate how long that download took. Your results will measure both your upload speed, or how quickly your internet pings the host server, and your download speed, or how fast you get information back.

Some activities like video chats and online gaming require a faster upload speed, although a frozen FaceTime screen can provide unexpected hilarity. Others, such as 4K HD video streaming, need quicker download speeds.

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Haven't cut the cord yet?

If your current internet speed isn’t too shabby, and you’re still mired in the world of cable TV, consider matching up with a streaming service provider. With a growing library of live TV offerings and exclusive content, there’s no shortage of cord-cutting options out there.

What’s the best internet for streaming?

The short answer: it depends.

Before you plunk down your credit card on an internet plan, it’s a good idea to see which speeds are best for different streaming activities. Audiophiles rocking out to Spotify will need a different speed than movie buffs streaming in 4K . . . and each will pay a far different price.

Of course, any internet speed is dependent upon what’s available in your area—and whether you can connect to it. For that reason, we’re recommending the top nationwide providers so you have a higher chance of accessing the plans we’ve reviewed. If any specific plan isn’t an option where you live, search for one that offers a similar speed and price point.

Best internet for streaming Netflix and Hulu

Provider and planSpeedPrice
Xfinity—Performance Starter planUp to 25 MbpsStarting at $20/mo.VIEW PLAN

Because on-demand streaming doesn’t need a whole lot of speed, you won’t need to turn your wallet upside down to enter The Upside Down (you’re welcome, Stranger Things fans). You can save a good chunk of cash on a cheaper internet plan.

While Netflix requires a broadband speed of only 0.5 Mbps, a speed that slow would result in a whole lot of buffering. Netflix recommends a connection of at least 3.0 Mbps for standard video and 5.0 Mbps for HD-quality streaming. Hulu similarly suggests a baseline of 3.0 Mbps for its on-demand library, though they bump it up to 8.0 Mbps for livestreams through its Hulu + Live TV service.

To cover most of your streaming bases, Xfinity offers the most bang for your buck. Starting at a promo price of just $20 per month, the Performance Starter package provides speeds that accommodate not only your basic on-demand, binge-watching streaming habits, but also your livestreaming in both standard definition and 4K HD.

Compare this plan to its next-best competitor, AT&T, where you get a 5 Mbps plan starting at a promo price of $40 per month. Xfinity gives you five times the bandwidth at half the starting price.

The fine print? To lock in your price, you’ll need to sign a one-year contract . . . meaning your bill could go up to $40 per month at the end of 12 months. You also need to sign up for autopay and paperless billing, otherwise your bill goes up another $10 per month.

Best internet for streaming 4K video

Provider and planSpeedPrice
AT&T 100 Mbps planUp to 100 MbpsStarting at $50/mo.VIEW PLAN

Though 25 Mbps is generally the minimum recommended speed for 4K streaming (according to Netflix), you’re going to want a whole lot more bandwidth if you plan to connect more than one device to your internet and still get the razor-sharp quality you’re looking for. We recommend looking anywhere upwards of 50 Mbps to keep the buffering demon at bay.

The 100 Mbps plan from AT&T should satisfy the needs of most multi-device households looking to stream in 4K quality. At a one-year promo price of $50 per month, it’s the most affordable mid-tier internet plan offered among the major providers. Even at a discount, the closest plan Xfinity has to that starts at $60 per month for only 250 Mbps.

Note, though, that the plan’s price rises to a regular monthly price of $60. This puts it in the same price league as Verizon Fios’ fiber-enabled Better Streaming plan, which offers a much faster 300 Mbps at two-year promo rate of $60 per month.

While Fios may give you even faster speeds, it’s also not available everywhere, and you’d need to lock yourself into a longer contract. We think AT&T’s initial savings and wider accessibility, combined with the option to shop around for a better deal after a year, make it the better choice.

Best internet for streaming live TV

Provider and planSpeedPrice
Xfinity BLAST! planUp to 150 MbpsStarting at $50/mo.VIEW PLAN

Having the right internet speed to stream live TV can make or break your cord-cutting experience. The biggest consideration, apart from which livestreaming service you use, is how many devices will use your internet connection at the same time.

For example, if you want a single stream of Sling TV, all you need is a 5 Mbps connection. But if you want to livestream and connect other devices to your internet, you’ll need a minimum speed of 25 Mbps—because sharing is caring.

Similarly, if you want to stream on YouTube TV, you’ll need 10 Mbps for a quality experience on a single device, plus another 5 Mbps for each streaming device you add. And if you want to stream in HD, your speed will need to be that much faster.

That said, we recommend Xfinity’s BLAST! Internet package. Because it’s a cable internet plan, it’s more widely available than the equivalent fiber plans from AT&T. You can safely accommodate up to eight devices at speeds of up to 150 Mbps, starting at a promo price of $50 per month.

Plus, you can stream in high def from your TV or computer, while still connecting to the internet via your phone or tablet at the same time.

Our gripe with this plan is the same as with the Starter Performance plan above. You can lock in this price for only one year before it skyrockets to $80 per month, and you have to sign up for paperless billing and autopay.

We also have to note that the AT&T fiber Internet 300 plan offers double the speed for the same promo price. But Xfinity cable internet is more widely available than fiber, and you’ve got a seriously appealing price point for those 12 months. So in our minds, it’s worth locking it in with Xfinity and then shopping around again when the year is over.

Best internet for streaming Twitch

Provider and planSpeedPrice
Verizon Fios Better Browsing planUp to 100 MbpsStarting at $39.99/mo.VIEW PLAN

If you plan on doing some online gaming or using broadcast services like Twitch, your upload speed is just as important as your download speed, if not more so. And because most internet packages focus on a faster download speed, you’re going to venture into fiber-connected territory to get your gaming and broadcasting into gear.

Thankfully, you don’t need to cough up major cash on a lightning-speed gigabit connection.

We recommend Verizon Fios’ Better Browsing plan. The initial price is $39.99 per month, and you get symmetrical upload and download speeds of up to 100 Mbps, so it’s a super affordable option that offers way more bandwidth than the 6 Mbps that Twitch requires for a smooth stream. Plus, it should be able to handle multiple devices.

The downside: fiber connection in general is currently in limited areas, and Fios is corralled mostly to areas on the US’s east coast. If you can’t currently get Fios in your area, the Internet 100 fiber-connected plan from AT&T is a good alternative, starting at $50 per month for one year, then $60 per month after that.

Also: Don’t be the data hog of the house. If you’ve got more than a few devices needing to get online while you Twitch the day away, you might want to bump up to a fiber-connected 300 Mbps plan, like the AT&T Internet 300 profiled above.

Best internet for streaming Spotify and Pandora

Provider and planSpeedPrice
Xfinity—Performance Starter planUp to 25 MbpsStarting at $20/mo.VIEW PLAN

If Sia is your patronus, then you’re in luck—most streaming music providers require barely any serious speed to deliver your favorite tunes to your speakers. The average speed requirement from music services like Spotify, Amazon Music, and Pandora is around 150 Kbps—merely a blip on your internet radar.

To get you groovin’, we recommend the Xfinity Performance Starter package—the same one we recommend for your Netflix and Hulu needs. Starting at a promo price of $20 per month, you get up to 25 Mbps download speed, making it more than capable of handling your Jane’s Addiction . . . addiction.

While you can also technically stream your on-demand content at this speed, you may run into issues if you try to connect all of your devices at the same time. Should you want to jam to your music, watch your movies, and check your Facebook all at once (look at you, multitasker), consider Xfinity’s 60 Mbps Performance package, starting at $30 per month.

How we choose our best internet providers for streaming

When it comes to sending you down the right path to streaming serenity, you know we’ve got your back! When we waded through the massive pool of internet packages, we took five major factors into consideration: provider and plan availability, streaming activity type, advertised price versus full price, advertised speeds, and the potential for multiple streaming devices.

We wanted to make sure our recommended internet providers and plans would be available to a majority of our readers, so we focused on the most popular and widespread internet providers—Xfinity, Spectrum, AT&T, Cox, and Verizon. While other options may be more prevalent in your area, these are “The Big Guys” that most streamers will have access to.

After breaking down each section into a common type of streaming activity, we took into account single users versus households with multiple devices. Then, we compared more bare-minimum internet providers and packages to each other, as well as more robust, slightly more expensive plans that’d work for families with different needs.

Our bottom-line recommendation for each kind of streaming activity is one that has the right speed for that specific kind of stream, is likely available in your location, and is priced as affordably as possible when compared to its competitors.

Final take

Obviously, a lot of factors go into figuring out which internet speed is right for you.

If you fall into the majority of internet streamers—multi-device users who want to enjoy HD streaming and still be able to download other files quickly—you’ll want to veer toward packages that fall in the 50–100 Mbps range.

For most music lovers, gamers, and live-TV watchers, we suggest Xfinity’s offerings. Xfinity has relatively widespread availability and a variety of packages at low promotional prices. Many of Xfinity’s plans can be locked in at the promo price for two years as well, guaranteeing both your speed and your savings.

As long as you’re not frequently changing addresses (mad props to our military families), a two-year deal shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.

Internet speed terms glossary

What is ping?

“Ping” refers to a signal or bit of information that your device—your computer, streaming device, etc.—sends out to a “host” or server to see how long it takes to get a response. This tests how long it takes for your device to send out information, have it travel through the internet to its destination, and come back to you.

What is ping time?

Ping time or ping rate is essentially a measurement of your internet’s reaction time. It’s the total time that it takes for your device to send out a ping and receive a response from the host.

Ping time is measured in milliseconds (ms), and the lower the number, the better. A higher number means it took longer for that information to reach its destination and come back to you . . . indicating a slower internet connection.

What is latency?

“Latency” is another term for ping time or ping rate. It refers to the same connection response time.

What is Mbps?

Mbps stands for “megabits per second” and refers to your internet connection’s bit rate, or the number of packages of information that can be sent along your network within a second of time. One megabit equals one million bits, and the more Mbps your connection accommodates, the faster your connection is.

What is Gbps?

This means “gigabits per second.” Much bigger than its “mega” cousin, one gigabit equals one billion bits of information. It’s the fastest internet connection around, but its availability is currently limited to larger cities and metro areas. Don’t worry, though—most major internet providers are working to slowly roll out gig-speed connections to their entire customer bases.

What does bandwidth mean?

“Bandwidth” refers to how much data your internet connection can move around at a given time.

Think of it like a street in your neighborhood. While there may be plenty of room for a single car to drive, it gets a bit more cramped when two cars are passing each other—and it gets even worse if there are other cars parked along the side of the street, prompting one vehicle to stop and wait for the other to pass.

That’s very much similar to what happens when multiple devices use the same internet connection at the same time.

What is fiber internet?

When we talk about fiber, we’re talking about the kind of cable that your internet signal passes through when it travels from its host server to your internet modem. It’s short for “fiber optics” and is the fastest kind of internet connection to date.

Because it’s relatively new, it’s also in relatively short supply. That’s why fiber internet plans have limited availability, until more fiber-optic cables can be laid to create a larger network.

Internet speeds for streaming FAQ

What is a good home internet speed?

That’s entirely dependent on how you plan to use your internet.

Tally up the number of devices you use to connect to the internet, including all phones, laptops, tablets, streaming TV devices, etc., and then take a look at what you plan to do on each of those devices. Your TV may need 4K HD streaming speeds, while you may use your laptop for only basic email and word processing.

Do some quick math, then check out our recommendations above.

How fast does my internet need to be to stream?

We hate to sound like a broken record, but it really does depend on what you’re streaming. Music streaming services require the lowest speeds, generally around 96 Kbps–0.5 Mbps. Live TV streaming, especially in 4K HD, requires the fastest speeds—usually around 25 Mbps to have a lag-free experience.

You can also check out our roundup of the best streaming services to see what the minimum requirements are for each device.

How can you speed up your Wi-Fi?

The easy answer is to move your router to a better location. If your router is in one corner of your house, and your connected device is all the way in the other, it’ll take a long time for your signal to travel from Point A to Point B. Moving your router to a centralized location can cut the lag time in half.

You can also invest in Wi-Fi beacons to place around your home, like the Eero system. This way, instead of your Wi-Fi signal traveling all the way from your router to your device, it can travel in shorter jumps, and you’ll get internet from the beacon your device is closest to.

Another option is to change the frequency of your connection. Many internet routers offer the option for 5GHz Wi-Fi in your network settings, which is more than double the standard 2.4 GHz frequency.

What internet speed do I need for Netflix 4K?

Netflix recommends a minimum speed of 25 Mbps for Ultra HD/4K streaming.

What internet speed do I need for Hulu?

This depends on which Hulu service you subscribe to, how many devices you want to simultaneously stream, and whether or not you want standard- or high-definition quality. Hulu recommends the following minimum speeds:

  • For Hulu’s on-demand library
    • 1.5 Mbps for SD video
    • 3.0 Mbps for HD video
    • 16 Mbps for 4K video
  • For Hulu Live:
    • 8 Mbps for a single streaming device; higher speeds for multiple devices.

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