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How fast is enough to enjoy our #StayAtHome?

Published on April 28, 2020

50 Mbps fine, 100 Mbps better, 300+ Mbps is ideal for heavy users at home

Let's talk about Bandwidth 

Bandwidth, in a technical term, is understood as the maximum rate of data transferred across a given path. However, for most of the users, it is only the speed needed to browse the Internet. 

Today, the Internet connects almost every aspect of our modern society, especially nowadays, when the whole world is under lockdown measures during the Coronavirus crisis (COVID-19), and millions of people still need to work, study and entertain themselves at home. Thus, in the past few weeks, we have seen Internet use at homes increased exponentially, so achieving a satisfactory user experience online is becoming a worldwide concern. 

So, here is the million-euro question: how much bandwidth do we really need to have a pleasant experience at home? 

The bandwidth needed will vary widely depending on the household size, the number of users, connected devices, online activities, and so on. Hereafter, we are presenting our bandwidth recommendation for online activities: 

Figure 1. Bandwidth recommendations for Online Activities |Source: MedUX

 What are the most common online activities in Spain? 

First of all, it is essential to know what online applications and services are commonly used by Internet users, in order to determine how much bandwidth is enough for each activity. Furthermore, we also have to consider work from home activities, that now have been adopted by millions of workers, for which is important to have a proper connection and a good user experience.

 According to the latest survey carried out by the Spanish Statistical Office (INE by its abbreviation), for individual users, 87.7% of them are regular Internet users, showing a 5% increase from 2018. Among those, the most frequent online activities are receiving and sending emails (72.2%); reading and downloading newspapers (71.1%); listening to music (62.5%); making video conferencing (55.1%) and managing bank account operations (54.9%). 

Figure 2: Internet usage by online activities in Spain. | Source: INE Spain

 Regarding the usage time, Global Web Index indicates that Internet users aged from 16 to 64 in Spain already daily spend 5H 41M using the Internet, 1H 51M using social media, 3H 11M watching Television, 1H 01M listening to music streaming services and 54M enjoying gaming activities. 

All this data represents Spanish Internet usage before the COVID-19 crisis, so considering the current situation, we could only imagine a much more substantial increase in all online activities, and part of the regular Internet users are turning into heavy users. Furthermore, there is a dramatic growth in other online activities not included in the list, such as online shopping or massive VPN usage, since many workers need to remotely access their companies' database. 

Households now involve multiple users and devices, and, like we mentioned before, faster Internet speeds are essential to ensure everyone can enjoy high-quality video streams and smooth browsing experiences. The needs of higher Internet speeds will ultimately push up bandwidth, allowing the broadband connection to transfer more data to the devices at a given time. 

How much Bandwidth do we need? 

To answer this question, first we need to know how much bandwidth does each activity require. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), basic functions such as email, browsing, basic video or Internet radio, require from 3 (minimum for one user) to 25 Mbps (maximum for four users or more at a time). To go in deep, we have classified these online activities into the following categories:

  1. Web Browsing

Typically, the minimum speed recommended to enter and browse any website, send an e-mail or browse the social networks is between 1 and 3 Mbps per second. For multiple users at home, 10 Mbps will provide everyone with a lag-free browsing experience.

  1. Video Streaming

We should highlight that the different types video qualities require different bandwidth: Video streaming with better quality usually needs higher speed. 

Figure 3: Bandwidth for steaming YouTube video with different quality (Kbps). |Source: MedUX

 On average, streaming a SD360p video on YouTube need at least 3 Mbps, while with the quality upgrading, 4 Mbps are needed for SD480p videos. Plus, HD720p and HD1080 videos takes up 5 Mbps.

Streaming videos with 4K Ultra HD quality are not included in MedUX analysis since they are not commonly played due to lack of content, technology constraints and other factors. Anyway, for users who want to experience the cutting-edge streaming service, they will need higher speeds and the minimum may be 25 Mbps. 

The figure above shows that speed seems to fall at nights, indicating bandwidth congestion, so streaming experience is likely to be affected. In this regard, higher speeds and FTTH technology will guarantee a better experience, avoiding degradation of the service. See article Ultra-Fast Broadband. What for? for more information about technologies that meet users’ residential bandwidth requirements. 

There are other factors people need to bear in mind. Although most popular streaming platforms such as Netflix or YouTube share similar speed requirements, sometimes the bandwidth required may vary among each platform as they adapt to different video bitrate. 

We also need to point out that, if multiple devices at home are playing video on streaming at the same time, minimum download speed will be multiplied, so for an average size family, 2 Mbps will be ideal to enjoy HD streaming videos.

  1. Online Gaming

Talking about gaming, we are facing two different scenarios: one is the conventional gaming with online features, and the other are the game streaming services that are currently gaining more and more attention.

In the first category, people usually need to download game content before and then connect to the Internet to enjoy online gaming. Putting aside the speed needed to download massive game packages, the minimum rate required for gaming is between 3 and 8 Mbps. Plus, the quality and reliability of online gaming sessions also depend on upload speeds (at least 1 Mbps), latency, jitter and packet loss. In our view, for a good gaming experience, 12 Mbps of download speed and 6 Mbps of upload speed are needed, above all when there are several users playing at the same time. 

For more futuristic gameplays, we take Google Stadia as an example  of Cloud Gaming where games runs on remote servers and streams them directly to a user’s device. In their platform, Stadia offers several streaming qualities, including some specific features like streaming resolution, audio quality, refresh rate, and even HDR. Google states that the availability and performance of gameplay features and services (including 4K, HDR, 60 FPS, and 5.1 surround sound) are network, device, and game-dependent, and may not be available for all games in all areas. 

Figure 4. Recommended speeds for gaming. |Source: Google Stadia

 Streaming games or videos do not technically present differences. However, game streaming is even more demanding on the users' network quality, as it continuously has to receive and upload package from the end-user, and also works to mitigate the latency.

  1. Live Video & Video Conferencing

Many Internet users use the social networks to post high quality photos, create video content or stream live videos, which require a good Quality of Experience (QoE) also for the viewers. Especially now that, with the lockdown, people have take advantage of their creativity and artistic skills. 

The network requirement for live video is similar to video streaming, but instead of download speed, here upload link is even more important. The same philosophy applies to video conferencing, because all participants are receiving video content and sending their video packages at the same time as well. Bandwidth requirements also differ in each platform and depend on the video and audio quality. To keep it simple, take a look to the chart below: 

Figure 5. Live Video Quality vs Minimum DL/UL Speed.
  1. VPN Service & P2P file sharing

Many people are starting to transform their homes into their daily work office and a reliable Internet connection is necessary to work from home safely. Moreover, data from Statista has shown that in late March, Spain witnessed an increase in VPN (Virtual Private Network) usage by 58%. As expected, when people are working from home, many workers need to access the resource from the company, and in that case, VPN is the most reliable way. 

It is worth noting that, by using VPN, we are not only focusing on download speed, but upload speed as well, since workers often need to transfer documents from their local computer to the company's database. In this regard, is crucial to enable a fluent workflow in order to avoid network stress. 

The logic can apply to peer-to-peer (P2P by its abbreviation) file sharing as well. P2P file sharing is a mechanism that allows sharing digital content, like electronic books and multimedia files, through a direct connection between two peers or nodes over the P2P network. The difference between P2P file sharing and other download methods like HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is that when downloading contents through P2P network, the user’s computer works as a download source that is simultaneously sending data packages, enabling other users to download them. 

So, for people regularly accessing and sharing documents using VPN and P2P network, at least 50 Mbps symmetrical bandwidth may be needed.

  1. Heavy User Scenario

Finally, how much bandwidth is enough for tech lovers and heavy Internet users? The answer is symmetric 300 Mbps or ultra-fast bandwidth. It seems more than enough, but  imagine a scenario, where someone is watching in the living room a 4K Ultra HD video with the highest bitrate, that could easily take up 100 Mbps.

At the same time, in the bedroom, someone is playing a 4K quality video game, which consumes another 100 Mbps, and others are downloading some documents for work that require as much bandwidth as possible while browsing Instagram photos on the phone. At the end, there is not much bandwidth left. 

All in all 

So back to the question raised before, how much bandwidth will meet the users' daily needs? Nowadays, a 50 Mbps service will be enough for personal use, however now we are spending a lot of time at home, we work on remote, make video calls, attend to remote meetings and to remote school lessons almost every day, and that may not be enough. 

Considering all factors, if a regular household competently organize the whole online activities at home without any excessive use of bandwidth, then 100 Mbps is enough for all members in a family to have an excellent experience. However, as we mentioned before, high-demand users will need 300 Mbps with symmetric downlink and uplink speed to guarantee an uncompromising satisfactory experience on any online.

In the future, "higher speed needs will arise" as it is analyzed in Telzed discussion paper The need for speed. Households would demand at least 600 Mbps o even 1 Gbps since bandwidth consumption is continuously growing and consumers use more and more services that need large data capacity (Ultra-High Quality Video/Audio, Internet of Things and massive data capacity apps), but also request better quality of experience. In the end, this must demonstrate that every household in Europe must have access to 30 Mbps Internet access service. 

Having said this, the discussion is more complex than pictured above. For illustration purposes, average needs for speed were added up to have a basic discussion about how much speed we may need at home. However, if you take into consideration statistics and traffic theory principles you would realize that everything is a bit more tricky. Roger Steele from Telzed, also states that “a broadband speed needs to be much more than the average usage (hence the >4x value) and also significantly more than the fastest service used. If two or three users frequently need the same top-speed service, then the premise’s speed must be 1.2-2x this aggregate speed”. 

If we take Wi-Fi into account, as a master piece for the true user experience (considering that a minority of devices are connected via Ethernet), then the maximum speed is not that of the pipe but probably a lower one. The maximum speed you may be able to get at your home premise will depend not only on your router, your devices and your network users, but also on those around you. If you analyse the situation in these challenging times, you may come to a similar conclusion as Jim Salters at Your COVID-19 Internet problems might be COVID-19 Wi-Fi problems, where he that “if the router and the streaming device are in the same room, and they're connected on 5GHz, that 25 Mbps stream is probably only consuming 15 percent of the airtime. But if they're two rooms apart from one another, the same stream is likely consuming 75-90 percent of the airtime”. 

Wi-Fi has come a long way, but its common performance is still far from that of a direct Ethernet connection to the router. According to Salters, “the first step is eliminating as many Wi-Fi connections as you can”, then, “mesh Wi-Fi can help significantly here by cutting down the distance and obstructions needed for each connection”. 

No matter what, Ultra-Fast Broadband would allow better Quality of Experience for any customer profile and traffic usage. But, please, do not forget your Wi-Fi. If you want to know more about bandwidth requirements, customers' needs and how to address them to increase the Customer Lifetime Value, follow us on social networks, subscribe to MedUX blog's newsletter and don't miss our following articles. For more information contact us at hello@medux.com.

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