The United States has “internet speeds more than double” the rest of the world, on average. Is that true? What is a good download speed for the internet, anyway?
After this guide, you’ll not only be an internet speed expert but you’ll truly know what questions to ask before you buy from an ISP, or internet service provider. You can ask about latency, bandwidth, and know if you’re being offered too much or too little for your needs like a pro.
Read to the end to see the verdict on USA internet speeds, and how to make up your own mind on that opening statistic!
Table of Contents
What Is Internet Speed?
To get to know what internet speed is, we need to learn about three things. They are latency and bandwidth, and how they’re measured. Terms like milliseconds, Mbps, and 500B packets won’t scare you when we’re finished.
What Is Latency?
Latency is the amount of time it takes for a message to leave your device and be received by a server (or another device). This is the true measure of speed, and it’s measured in milliseconds or thousands of a second.
For example, if you have a connection that “pings” at 123 milliseconds that means it took 0.123 seconds to reach a server or just over 12 tenths of a second. Pretty fast right?
What is bandwidth? We’re glad you asked.
What is Bandwidth?
Bandwidth is how much data you can send at one time.
Imagine you have a tube, and you can only put one plastic ball at a time through the tube. You can do it super fast, in fact, you can do it at the speed of light!
Now imagine another tube, this one you can send through 16 balls at a time, also at the speed of light. Has the speed changed? Not really, but you sent 16 times the number of balls at a time.
When people talk about “internet speed” what they often will cite is the bandwidth, instead. This is because it’s a more reliable measure of how much data can be moved at a time than latency. Both, though, are important.
If you can transmit 1Gbps but it takes three or four seconds to get to the destination (3000 or 4000 milliseconds) you get two problems. One, you can’t “stream” data, like voice or video conferences rely on, and you get “timeouts” where the devices essentially say “goodbye” and terminate the connection.
Latency and Bandwith work together to create a stable connection that creates smooth data flow.
Bit for Byte
Lastly, we measure data in two different ways that get confusing. A bit is a 1 or a 0, and that’s it. A byte is 8 1s or 0s in a packet. Why is this a big deal?
Well, the way we measure bandwidth per second and file storage are different. A byte is a measure of 8 bits because that’s the amount of data needed to encode a single character (A through z, 0 through 9). However, the service provider actually sends data one bit at a time.
Well, kind of. Data is often sent in packets to know where to put the 1s and 0s when they arrive. The maximum packet size you can use today is 65,535 bytes, but in reality, that’s about 500 times larger than a typical internet packet.
Part of a packet’s data tells the device what order the packet is in, this way you don’t’ have to start from 0% if something goes wrong on streaming your movie, or downloading an image.
What Is a Good Download Speed for the Internet?
To harken back to the opening statistic, if America has such a great internet speed, what about the rest of the world?
Considering the average, you might think that the USA is doing great. But in actuality, most developed countries scoff at the USA’s latency problems and lack of consistent bandwidth.
For example, Taiwan and Singapore are both more than double the USA’s official ranking. Meanwhile, most African countries can barely muster 6Mbps if there is any connectivity at all (just over 50% of the population of most countries in Africa have access, but likely share it).
Companies like glofiber.com are trying to change this discrepancy in internet speeds to bring the USA into the next generation of broadband internet and more in line with what is expected of a world leader.
How much is too much?
How Fast Do You Really Need to Go?
There’s no easy answer for this because there are more devices per person every year. Also, devices in our home are communicating with each other, and the internet more and more.
Depending on the kind of streaming you’re doing, playing on consoles, and on what kind of device, the average person can consume between 35 to 70 Mbps in a household.
More people in a household at once means more bandwidth. A family of three might need a minimum of 150Mbps, where a family of 4 might need 200Mbps. If you work from home and you’re doing conference calls and uploading large files, you might need more.
Why Can’t I Download 4GB in 4 Seconds?
Why does it take a 1000Mbps or 1Gbps bandwidth connection about 34 seconds to download or upload a 4GB file? There are various factors, which include things that don’t take your bandwidth into consideration, including handshakes, encryption, lost packets, packet size, and so on.
A handshake is when two devices are “meeting” and agreeing on how to talk, in what language, and at what packet size. In this case, your device and the server on the other end.
Sometimes, just as in real life packages, data packets get lost along the way or corrupted. In that case, a new one has to be re-sent and put in the right order.
Another thing to think about is the speed of the server and the load it’s under from other users.
Finally, remember the talk we had about bits and bytes?
1000 Mbps is 1000 megabits per second, not megabytes. Similarly, 1Gbps is 1 gigabit per second or 1000 megabits. Don’t get confused!
Internet Speeds 101: Class Dismissed
So, what is a good download speed for the internet? It depends on a lot of factors as you now know. Things like latency and bandwidth play their own roles in determining “speed,” or data rates.
We told you that you’d be able to grill your ISP like a pro, next time you think about switching ISPs.
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