Many companies boast having high-speed plans and multiple tiers, but how much do those speeds matter? The answer depends on how you use the internet, and even if you're someone who just uses the web to visit a few news sites, Facebook, or email. To understand not only why different speed offers matter, but how you actually use the internet, here are a few internet service details:
Understanding Speed, Consistency, And Capacity
Internet speed is a balance of how fast information can move in a particular direction, how many lanes of information can be packed into a single connection to move many things at the same time, and how consistent that information is.
Your standard internet connection plan will boast a specific number, usually in Megabits per second (Mbps, different from Megabytes), but more recently in Gigabits per second in the faster consumer-available test locations. This means that you can send or receive X number of bit per second. There is a bit of additional time added to that transmission, as the information needs to be verified and passed through multiple routes that take time to switch through, but the number is rounded for advertisement use.
That speed means you can get a file of a certain size and receive it quickly. The bigger your internet speed number, the bigger the files that can be sent within a second. If you only browse websites that are filled with basic pictures and text, there is such a thing as overkill. For example, a 10mbps connection and a 20mbps connection may not deliver a noticeable difference for a single computer user on the network accessing a web page with nothing but text.
Speed and capacity are often working hand-in-hand as far as the consumer is concerned, but you also need to worry about consistency. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have to maintain copper, fiber, and other cabling that can deteriorate over time, and frayed wires can lead to lost information. That information has to be sent again, and this represents a delay in delivery.
Consistency is hard to measure and usually needs to be tested when you sign up for the ISP. Ask a representative about the consistency and use tools such as the DSLReports Ping Test to find consistency problems.
Define "Just A Few Websites"
The problem is that not many websites have such basic layouts. You may not notice it and you may not think you're accessing it, but many websites in the standard United States English internet experience have high definition images, videos, and sometimes music. There are also advertisements that load on the side of these sites that come from other websites, which may slow down your experience.
Do you watch videos online? Many people who have always used high-speed internet on someone else's network (such as work, school, paid for by parents, or otherwise provided without personal cost) may not realize that videos playing on Netflix apps and Netflix websites are the same things, and they're not small files.
Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other video websites use a technology called streaming. It's just a replacement for downloading a big movie file and waiting for it to finish before watching. You're still getting a big movie file, but bit by bit over time while bringing a customized file size over that you can see as it downloads.
Most popular streaming sites will have recommended speeds for their services. Contact a high-speed internet provider to discuss available plans that match your internet use.