Does Streaming Affect Internet Speed? (Clearly Explained)

Streaming content in HD or 4K from various platforms like Netflix and Amazon Video has become a huge part of many internet user’s habits. But does streaming like this actually affect your internet speed? Does it affect the speed you and other users will get on other devices?

Streaming will slow down your internet speed, since bandwidth in home internet services is shared across all users and not a per person allocation. Therefore, consuming streaming content will reduce the available bandwidth and speeds available for other devices/users on the network.

Streaming content to your own devices consumes download bandwidth (usually from 1-25 Megabits per second – Mbps – data), and streaming your own content to the internet consumes upload bandwidth, meaning there’s less of these things available for other users in the home.

Bandwidth Is Shared Across A Network

The simple way to answer this question is to simply state the fact that the total bandwidth available on a home internet package is shared between all users. The headline speed of your internet service (eg. “50 Meg”) is not a per-person quota available to each user who connects to the router. It’s the total amount that’s available to the entire home/network as a whole.

Even this figure can be misleading, since you’ll rarely or never even get the maximum speeds even in perfect conditions (more on this below). But the general idea is that total bandwidth/speed on your internet is shared across all users. More users at any one time, including those streaming content, equals less potential bandwidth available for each user on the network.

For more clarity, this does mean that streaming can affect certain things, including:

  • Reducing download speeds for other devices on the network downloading content.
  • Reduce streaming quality or perhaps even prevent streaming for other users streaming content on other devices on the network.
  • Slowing down browsing and page load speed for other users on slower internet plans.
  • Sometimes cause lag for gamers using the network at the same time.
  • Delivering an otherwise slower, more sluggish experience for other users on the network if the available bandwidth is limited to begin with (higher speed internet plans will have less issues).

Example – Say you have a 100 Mbps internet package, and you’re streaming some HD content that uses 25 Mbps on average. This means that this 25 Mbps is shaved off the available bandwidth on the home network, meaning that other users could only get maximum 75 Mbps speed even in perfect conditions, whilst you’re streaming that content and using that bandwidth. In other words, the available bandwidth is shared between users, but because the internet package is still quite good at 100 Megs, there shouldn’t be too many issues.

Example #2 – Say you’ve only got a 10 Mbps internet package, but you’ve got 4 users on the network, with 2 of them trying to stream in HD and another 2 just doing basic browsing. The browsers might find downloads are slow and pages load slow, and the streamers might find they get buffering on videos or lower quality resolution. There isn’t really enough available bandwidth to serve all users at once, especially the streamers if both of them are trying to stream at the same time.

How Much Bandwidth Does Streaming Use?

To thoroughly answer this question, we need to break the topic down in several different ways, accounting for:

  1. Whether by “streaming”, you meaning downloading or uploading content
  2. The platform being used.

Let’s give some bottom line figures for how much bandwidth streaming actually uses.

1. For streaming content to your own devices – This is generally what consumes the most content on any home network, alongside downloading large files. Streaming content in HD or UHD/4K resolution does use a lot of the available bandwidth on a home internet service, leaving less available for other users.

Here are some ballpark estimates for data/bandwidth required to use popular streaming services:

  • YouTube – 1 Mbps for 480p, 2.5 Mbps for 720p, 5 Mbps for 1080p, 20 Mbps for 4K
  • Netflix – 3-5 Mbps for HD streaming; 15 Mbps for 4K streaming
  • Disney Plus – 5 Mbps for HD; 25 Mbps for 4K
  • Amazon Video – 3-5 Mbps for SD/HD; 25 Mbps for UHD/4K
  • HBO Max – 5 Mbps for standard HD; 25 – 50 Mbps for UHD/4K
  • Hulu – 3 Mbps for HD, 16 Mbps for UHD/4K

It’s mostly the same general ball-park – 3-5 Mbps for standard HD and 15-25 Mbps for Ultra HD streaming, so expect that much speed to be shaved off the available bandwidth on your internet service, alongside other factors which reduce speed that we’ll cover below.

2. For uploading your own streaming content – It’s also becoming more popular for people to upload their own streams to the wider internet, especially people with YouTube channels and gamers. For this, you actually need upload bandwidth/speed, and that’s the metric that’s affected rather than download speed.

Again, here’s some bottom line stats (source here):

  • YouTube streams – 1.5 – 4 Mbps Upload Speed recommended
  • Twitch streams – 3 Mbps Upload speed recommended
  • Facebook livestreams – 3-6 Mbps Upload speed recommended

This is the metric that can trip up some internet users, since it’s common to have  adequate or good download speeds, but upload speed can lag behind on some internet packages. To effectively upload one’s own streams reliably in high quality resolution, you really do need a strong internet service that offers good upload speeds as well as download speeds (preferably 10-20 Mbps upload at least when tested).

Alongside livestreams, this will also help just with YouTube content creators in general, to get videos uploaded efficiently. With a slow upload speed, you can be waiting hours just to get a simple video uploaded to the platform, so make sure you’ve got a good internet package with strong upload and download.

Other Factors Which Affect Actual Internet Speeds

It’s also important to mention that the whole idea of “maximum” or “potential” speeds on an internet package are largely hypothetical and “best possible” speeds in perfect circumstances (eg. plugged into the router, off peak times, no other users on network).

Often-times, you won’t actually get the speeds you pay for on your internet package, since the headline speeds depend on ideal conditions which are rarely or never met, meaning speeds will be reduced even further from ideal by a number of factors. Here are some of these other factors:

Type of Connection – When streaming, it’s always preferable to be on a wired ethernet connection when possible, plugged direct into the router. This almost always delivers more speed than using Wi-Fi.

Strength of Wi-Fi Connection – If you are on Wi-Fi, speeds and bandwidth will be massively influenced by how strong and reliable the signal is. Weaker signals and more distance between the router and device means even slower speeds.

Number of Users on the network – As explained above, bandwidth is shared, so if you’ve got multiple users on a network with high bandwidth demands all at once, speeds will necessarily be reduced. You might have multiple people trying to stream on different devices at the same time for example.

Time of day – You might also get lower speeds during so called “on peak” times (late evenings and weekends) when more people are at home using the internet. Higher speeds can sometimes be achieved during “off peak” times when there are less overall internet users in that country/area.

All of this goes to show that there are lots of factors to go along with streaming and data use to determine what speeds you’ll get at any one time. Having one or several people streaming at the same time for sure reduces potential speeds, but other factors go into the mix as well.

Testing Your Current Internet Speed

Testing the current bandwidth/speed on your internet service is easy. There are loads of free tools you can do this with now.

Click here to check out the Speedtest tool, which will test your current connection speed.

With this, you can check both your download and upload speed to see if it matches up to what’s needed for your streaming needs.

Aim to have at least 3-5 Mbps on your current connection for basic quality streaming (you can sometimes get away with less but it’s not guaranteed). For top notch streaming in 4K, 15 Mbps+ is recommended. For uploading your own streams, you ideally need upload speeds of 2-6 Mbps depending on the platform.

How To Optimize Your Internet Connection For Streaming

There are some ways you can optimize the way you use your current internet service to extract the most out of it and get the best speeds possible for streaming, or at least a smoother streaming experience if bandwidth is more limited.

Here are some best practices in this regard:

  1. Reduce stream quality – all providers have a settings cog or menu where you can lower resolution if needed to at least be able to stream on lower bandwidth connections and reduce data use.
  2. Always use wired connections when possible for streaming devices. Powerline adapters are a next best solution if you can’t run a cable direct to the router.
  3. If you need to stay on Wi-Fi, move as close as possible to the router and minimize the number of walls/obstacles. Also experiment with different Wi-Fi bands (2.4 vs 5 GHz) on dual band routers.
  4. Wi-Fi extenders may also offer some limited help to extend and preserve a usable signal when using Wi-Fi, but aren’t guaranteed to work all the time.
  5. Use the network at less busy/congested times, and use QoS settings on your router to prioritize streaming devices.

See our post on testing your internet for streaming for more on each of these points.

Upgrading Your Internet If Necessary

In some cases, because streaming has become so popular, you may find you’ve got several users in a home and bandwidth needs of all users have now out-stripped the capability of your current internet package. You might have got away with 1 person streaming Netflix, but now if there’s 3-4 people wanting to do this at the same time, you need more bandwidth than is available.

In this case, you’re best upgrading to a stronger internet service with more bandwidth.

Here are some ball-park estimates for the total bandwidth required for different numbers of simultaneous streamers (source here):

  • 1-2 devices – moderate SD/HD streaming and other basic use – 25 Mbps
  • 3-5 devices – multiple 4K streaming devices – 50-100 Mbps
  • 5+ devices – multiple 4K streaming devices – 150-200 Mbps

If you do decide you need to upgrade, competition is usually strong in the ISP market in many countries.

Click here for a US Broadband provider ZIP code search tool; see here for a Canada search tool, see here for a tool for UK users.


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