We’ve come a long way since the dial-up days. Now you can connect to the internet at speeds that make conventional high-speed fiber broadband seem slow. Gigabit services are available in most regions and the average price is under $100. But does anyone really need a gigabit connection?
But what do these speeds actually mean? And will it make a noticeable difference to your online experience? Here, we’ll take a closer look at what ultra-fast internet has to offer you, when you need it, and whether it’s even available. There are also some downsides to consider, and the speeds you’re promised may not even be the speeds you’ll actually get.
How Fast Is Gigabit Internet?
If you want to be pedantic, the name suggests speeds of one gigabit per second. In relative terms, you can download an average HD movie in less than a minute at this speed, and something larger like a Blu-Ray or 4K movie in less than five minutes. The advertised connection speed usually refers to the download speed — the speed at which your modem can receive data. The download speed, or the speed at which your modem can send data, may be significantly slower. Since most people download more than they charge, this may not be a problem, but it’s something to consider when using a plan.
In terms of streaming, gigabit is also overkill. Standard-definition streams only require connection speeds of 4 Mbps or more, while HD streams require eight, while UHD streams may require up to 25 Mbps. All of this can be easily achieved with a fiber connection, provided your bandwidth allows, unless more people are trying to stream UHD movies.
The average internet speed in the US is about 204 Mbps, and a gigabit connection is five times that. So if you want to take advantage of the new internet services that are emerging, a gigabit connection can also be pretty future-proof.
Why might you need one?
The main reason people choose something like gigabit over standard high-speed fiber is the increased bandwidth. If you live alone and only use your laptop and cell phone, your 100 Mbps connection will probably be fast enough. The more household members and devices you add, the smaller slice of the bandwidth pie everyone gets.
If you are in a family of four and every member of that family is streaming or playing online games every evening, you will probably need a better internet package to handle the increased usage. Smart home users can also feel the pain, as all these smart devices connect to Wi-Fi. Some like Google Home or Alexa may also need to use some of your internet bandwidth. Even smaller households may require a lot of bandwidth. My wife and I live in a small apartment, but we have two laptops, a desk, a projector, lots of cell phones, smart bulbs, outlets, three Alexas, a TV, a couple of tablets, plus whatever gadget I’ve tried for distraction. like our Wi-Fi electric vampires pack.
Remote work and distance education have also increased the need for fast and reliable internet. Many people who engage in video calling, accessing remote office computers and uploading and downloading files can create a huge network load. While your home internet is fine for recreation, you may find it’s not suitable for remote work – especially when the whole family needs to be online. Video calls and conferences can put a particular strain on your network due to the download and upload bandwidth required.
This is where download speed can be an issue. If you’re doing nothing but browsing, you’ll only need to download a small amount of data, so your speeds won’t matter much. However, if you regularly need to send large files such as videos and images, slow download speeds can mean a waste of time.
What are the downsides?
Significantly faster internet is a pretty big plus, so there’s definitely a catch, right? The two most obvious downsides are access and cost. Times are tough, things are expensive, and it makes sense to carefully review each bill before deciding whether it’s worth it to you.
The average cost of gigabit internet is $73 per month, or about $17 more per month than standard high-speed internet. But as anyone who’s dealt with a monopoly cable company in an area knows, average costs can be a distant dream when it comes to internet service. $73 a month in Brooklyn can be triple that in suburban New York. Then there are hardware and installation costs to consider. You might get lucky and your gigabit might be available right away, or you might spend over a hundred dollars before the contract kicks in and then see a “modem rental” fee or similar increase. is worried. There are too many cable deals in the US to list here, but you should definitely do some research and do some math before making the leap to gigabit.
Your home may not be ready for gigabit internet either. If your home network can’t handle it, it will bottleneck your connection and waste much of the extra speed you paid for.
Chances are you don’t live in an area where gigabit speeds are offered, though it’s unlikely. According to the FCC, 88% of the US lives in an area where gigabit internet is available. However, things are a bit more complicated than that. The gigabit-ready area you currently live in may not be the ideal internet location you think it is. Even if your zip code is gigabit on paper, there’s no guarantee it will be available on your street or building. If you have access, advertised speeds may not be the speeds you actually get.
Not all Gigabit Internet is created equal
You really have to read the fine print here. Like online job ads that promise to pay up to $1,000 a day, the words “up to” do a lot of work. Some providers offer “gigabit” services, which essentially means that 1GB/s is the fastest your internet will go. Average speeds can be very low.
Not all providers are like this, but considering the costs, it’s worth being careful. If you decide to go for gigabit internet, read the contract, make sure the provider is clear about any trial or cancellation periods, and monitor your service during that period to make sure you’re getting the speeds you’re paying for.
Should you upgrade?
Confession time. Despite the variety of devices in my home and the fact that my work depends on an internet connection, I only have high-speed broadband. It serves my needs and I’d rather spend the money I save on some other pointless crap than give it to Spectrum for extra bandwidth I probably won’t use.
But I’m not you. You should consider your budget and circumstances before making a decision. It’s worth it if you live in a crowded household and disputes over bandwidth usage occur regularly. If you’re happy with your current link, but you’re getting a lot of offers, it’s worth thinking about. However, if you live alone and only have a few online devices, you might just be throwing money away if you choose a faster connection than you really need.
There is also the matter of equipment. Sometimes a router upgrade or a second look at how your home network is laid out can do more for your online experience than anything else.