“Blazing fast!” “Lightning speed!” Such promises are routinely declared by various providers of broadband service. But what speed really is considered to be fast? And, would you even know it if you had fast broadband service…or didn’t have it?
As it happens, about 80% of Americans don’t know what speed they’re getting from their broadband service. To some, their humble 512 Kbps upload speed is “fast” because the service provider says it is. Users see ads promising the moon, pay monthly fees that would buy a universe, and may end up only getting the equivalent of a junior telescope.
It doesn’t help that there’s often confusion over the letters “mbps.” These letters stand for the rate of speed data is transferred per second (that’s the “ps” part). MBps (with the B capitalized) indicates megabytes per second; Mbps (with the b in lower case) indicates megabits per second. Bits are much smaller than bytes; there are eight bits to a byte, and eight Megabits per second would be the same as just one Megabyte per second. But because the same series of letters is used for both measurements, consumers can mistakenly think they’re getting a speed notated in megabytes when it’s actually megabits.
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Does Broadband Speed Matter?
Well, it might, and then again, it might not. It depends on when and what you use your broadband connection for.
The timing issue is due to the necessity of sharing space when the broadband connection gets overloaded. It’s like hitting a rush hour traffic jam: bottlenecks slow everyone down. For example, if the broadband connection in your area serves many people who all come home from work at 6:00pm and start cruising through YouTube videos, then you’ll likely find your speed plummeting at that time of day. If you can avoid using your broadband connection during peak hours, then a (truly) high speed broadband service may not be necessary for you.
Another factor impacting the level of speed you’ll want for your broadband connection is what you use your connection for. Sending and receiving emails and other text-based data takes very little to transmit, but add photos, videos and the biggie, gaming, into the mix, and suddenly that 1 Mbps that your company touted as “super fast” turns into “super dud.”
[Recommended read: Broadband 2000x Faster – and for the same price!]
How to Determine What Speed You Need
There’s a good chance you’re paying for speed you’re not even using. Check whether your broadband contract allows you to upgrade or downgrade to check out various speeds. If you’re not a heavy user, try ratcheting it down for a month to save money. If, however, you find yourself regularly muttering, “Come on; come onnnnn” at your connection, then you might be a good candidate for a speed upgrade.
[Read also: How to Improve a Slow Internet Connection]
In any event, contact your broadband provider to confirm what speed they’re claiming to provide you (pay attention whether it’s noted as MBps or Mbps). Ask about both upload and download speeds, as these are two different things. Then, check your own speed by using one of the many free broadband speed test sites available online. Test during a weekday and over a weekend, running the test several times each day. You’ll likely see varying results depending on the day of the week and the time of day, but you should come up with an aggregate average. Compare your findings with the company’s claims, and discuss any large discrepancies with your broadband provider.
Don’t pay more than necessary for your broadband service. Do your homework, make sure you’re getting the speed promised by your provider, and only buy as much speed as you need, downgrading if it makes sense. Any money you save on cheaper broadband service can go toward getting a new (faster) processor for your computer!