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What is bandwidth?

Bandwidth measures how much information your network can receive every second. It’s the maximum capacity a network has to transmit data and it’s measured in megabits per second, shortened to Mbps.

For example, if your network has a bandwidth of 40 Mbps, it cannot transmit more than 40 megabits in one second.

What is a good bandwidth?

For home networks that have heavy internet use, 100 Mbps is the recommended bandwidth. The minimum for a household of four people using four or more connected devices is 25 Mbps. The bandwidth you need depends on how many devices are connected to your network and what you’re using your internet for.

The below chart shows what kinds of online tasks you can do with different levels of bandwidth, along with how many users that bandwidth can typically accommodate.

Bandwidth Tasks Number of users (wireless)
5-25 Mbps Email
Streaming music (one device)
Searching on Google
Social media
Live streaming in HD
1-2 people
25-40 Mbps Streaming video (one device)
Video conferences
Online gaming (one person)
Live streaming in 4K
3-4 people
40-100 Mbps Streaming HD video (two or three devices)
Multiplayer online gaming
Downloading large files
Working from home
5-7 people
100-500 Mbps Streaming UHD video (multiple devices)
Quickly downloading files
Online gaming (multiple people)
Smart home devices
8-10 people
500-1,000 Mbps Running an office from home
Online gaming (multiple people)
Smart home devices
10+ people

What bandwidth do you need for live streaming?

The bandwidth you need for streaming depends on a few factors, like the resolution of the video, the end platform you’re streaming to, and the type of content you’re streaming. Generally, to stream in 1080p, you need at least 5 Mbps. To stream in 4K, you’ll probably need around 25 Mbps. Check the requirements and limits on the live streaming platform you’re broadcasting to as well. There should be guidelines about bandwidth based on your video’s resolution and frame rate.

You can read more about the best bandwidth for live streaming in our guide to internet upload speeds.

What is bandwidth vs. internet speed?

Network bandwidth is how much data you can transfer in a second; internet speed is how fast you can transfer the data. Think of it this way: bandwidth is a highway and the cars are the data. When there are more cars on a highway, they can’t move as quickly. The size of the highway hasn’t changed, there’s just more traffic.

When you’re sending and receiving more data, your internet speed slows down — but your bandwidth remains the same. That’s why you might have a laggy stream if someone else in your household is playing a video game online or participating in a live webinar at the same time.

“Bandwidth” and “internet speed” are used interchangeably and both are measured in Mbps, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. When you sign up for internet access with an internet service provider like AT&T or Verizon, the plans are offered in terms of bandwidth, such as up to 50 Mbps, up to 100 Mbps, and so on. When you pay more for a higher bandwidth, you’re paying to have a larger “highway” for sending and receiving data. The larger your highway, the more data you can send at one time. The more data you can send at one time, the faster your internet connection is likely to be.

Running a bandwidth test

If you want to know your bandwidth, check your plan from your ISP. It will give you a certain number like 100 Mbps. If you want to know your internet speed, which is affected by usage, you can run a speed test. There are several tools out there to help you see how fast your internet upload and download speeds are, but one of the most reliable is the Ookla Speed Test. If you run the test and it doesn’t appear to be what your plan covers from your ISP, you can reach out to them to see what’s wrong. You can also check if your network has an outage on Downdetector.

Is 2.4 GHz a bandwidth?

When connecting to your wireless network, you may have noticed two options for the same Wi-Fi: one at 2.4 GHz and one at 5 GHz. These two numbers don’t refer to your bandwidth, they are frequencies your wireless router uses to transmit data via Wi-Fi. Many people think that 5 GHz is always the better option because it’s a higher number, but that’s not necessarily the case.

The 2.4 GHz band has a signal that extends further than the 5 GHz — but the 2.4 GHz band is slower. That’s because the 2.4 frequency has other use cases besides Wi-Fi, such as cordless phones, garage door openers, baby monitors, etc. So your router isn’t the only device using the 2.4 GHz frequency, making it crowded and therefore slower.

The 5 GHz band is much faster than 2.4 but its range is limited. It doesn’t penetrate walls as effectively as 2.4 so it can’t travel as far. Of course, you can get an extender, but it costs more money.