Best internet speed for streaming

DecisionData Team
April 06, 2020

Streaming media has become a daily part of life for many Americans. In 2019, 62% of adults in the United States said they subscribed to some type of streaming service for movies, TV or music. Since we’re all so connected to online media, it can be quite disruptive when the screen freezes in the middle of your favorite streaming television show or an important live meeting. If you are finding your streaming often interrupted, it is possible your internet speed is not adequate. 

So, what is the best internet speed for streaming? In this guide, we’ll give you tips on how to determine what speeds you need for different types of streaming and which internet service providers offer those speeds. 

What is the best internet speed for streaming?

The best internet speed for streaming depends on the type of streaming you will be doing. We have broken this down into three types of streaming users: basic-, moderate- and high-bandwidth users and used recommended internet speeds from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The basic user streams things like Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and other subscription libraries. This type of streaming user will need download speeds between 3 and 18 Mbps depending on the video quality they desire with standard definition (SD) having the lowest Mbps requirement and 4K high definition having the highest Mbps requirement. 

The moderate user may stream from subscription libraries like the basic user, but will also have a need for live streaming through providers like Hulu Live, YouTube TV, Sling TV, Twitch, etc. This user may also need to upload content to live streams for things like vlogging. The moderate user will need download speeds between 3 and 50 Mbps and upload speeds between 3 and 41 Mbps depending on their specific needs. 

The heavy user will sometimes use subscription libraries, but may spend most of their time live streaming through providers like Hulu Live, YouTube TV, Sling TV, Twitch, etc. Those who are online gamers fit into this user category. These users need fast download speeds, around 50 Mbps and upload speeds of around 13 Mbps. 

Here are speeds needed for specific content types from the FCC:

Streaming typeDownload speed requiredUpload speed required
4K video (Netflix, Amazon Prime, VUDU)18 Mbps15.8 to 41 Mbps
High Definition 1080p (YouTube, Netflix, etc.)5 Mbps13 Mbps
Standard Definition (YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, etc.)3 Mbps600 Kbps
Music streaming (Pandora, Spotify, etc.)96 to 320 kbps3 to 13 Mbps
Live streaming (Twitch, Livestream, YouTube Live, etc.)2 to 50 Mbps3 to 13 Mbps

How do I get the best internet speed? 

Once you’ve determined what internet speed you need, you’ll need to know how you can achieve those speeds. Should you consider satellite, DSL, cable or fiber internet? It is important to understand that all internet types are not created equal and may be limited based on your location.

Satellite internet

This type of internet may be suitable for a basic user and is sometimes the only option for those living in more rural areas. Satellite internet speeds depend on the satellite signal received at your specific location. The provider may offer speeds up to 100 Mbps but will not guarantee speeds above 1 Mbps, which may not be suitable for moderate- or high-bandwidth needs. 

DSL Internet

DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line and operates through a telephone line. Though DSL often costs less than other types of internet, the speeds offered by DSL are often slower with providers like Verizon offering 0.5 to 15 Mbps. These speeds may be sufficient for a basic user but will not likely meet the needs of a moderate- or high-bandwidth user. 

Cable internet

Cable internet uses cable television lines and a cable modem to provide internet. Speeds for cable internet range from 20 Mbps and 100 Mbps. These speeds may be sufficient for all types of streaming depending on into which end of the range your speeds fall. 

Fiber internet

Fiber internet is offered through underground fiber-optic cables. Fiber is currently one of the fastest internet options available, with residential speeds up to 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps). Online gamers and other high-bandwidth streaming users may find that fiber internet is their most suitable option, if available. However, basic users should consider all cost options before selecting a fiber-optic internet provider that may have far more speed than is needed.  

Who is the best internet provider for streaming?

AT&T

With speeds up to 1,000 Mbps and no contract obligation, AT&T Fiber may be a good choice for internet users seeking high speeds with no strings attached. Their starting package price for fiber internet is $70 per month, or $49.99 per month if you chose to do a 12-month agreement. Although AT&T’s fiber availability is not currently offered in every state, AT&T continues to work to expand their coverage. They also offer DSL options with speeds ranging from 10 to 100 Mbps depending on the package and location. 

Comcast Xfinity

Comcast Xfinity offers cable internet packages and may be great for users seeking high speeds at low prices. Both packages are based on a 12-month agreement. Their lowest cost package is $20 per month for up to 25 Mbps download speeds and their highest cost package is $80 per month for up to 1,000 Mbps. With coverage in 11,344 U.S. cities, Comcast Xfinity has broad availability. 

CenturyLink

CenturyLink’s highest speed internet option is their Fiber Gigabit plan with 940 Mbps offered for $65 per month. They also offer a DSL internet package for $49 a month for speeds up to 100 Mbps. Neither package requires a contract and can be paid month-to-month. CenturyLink currently offers internet coverage in 16,160 cities in the United States. 

Spectrum

Depending on location, Spectrum offers three main internet packages and availability in 13,600 U.S. cities. All Spectrum packages include a 12-month agreement with the lowest cost package at $49.99 per month for speeds of 200 Mbps or more. Their highest cost package is called Internet Gig and is $109.99 a month with speeds of 940 Mbps or more.