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Internet Speeds: Bits, Bytes, and Everything in Between

 How to Read Internet Speeds

Which internet connection is better: 1,000,000 Kbps or 125 Mbps? 125,000 KBs or 1 Gbps? Actually, they're all the same. If you're left scratching your head when checking out your ISP's (Internet Service Provider) offerings, take a look below for a primer on internet speeds.

Decipher the Digits

Internet speeds are calculated in the amount of data you can download or upload per second. The size of data is measured in a series of data abbreviations. From smallest to largest, there's:

Kilobits (Kbps) – Kilobytes (KB/s) – Megabits (Mbps) – Megabytes (MB/s) – Gigabits (Gbps)

You're probably used to thinking about data in Megabytes, because when you measure an average website (1.5MB), iPhone photo (2.3MB) or song (3.5MB) you get pretty reasonable numbers. However, here's how all the measures compare:

1 Gigabit = 125 Megabytes = 1,000 Megabits = 125,000 Kilobytes = 1,000,000 Kilobits

What Connection Speed is Good Enough for Me?

While the internet speed of your Nokia cellphone in 2005 may have been measured in Kilobytes, the options from your local internet service providers will likely be in Megabits per seconds (Mbps). Often, there will be two numbers: a download speed that shows how fast you will be able to take information from the net and an upload speed that indicates how quickly you can send files out.

The speed you need really depends on what you'll be using your internet for and how many people will be on the connection. Ookla, a internet speed-testing company, has compiled a list of activities and their required connection speeds:

Reading e-mails: 0.08 Mbps download

Spotify: 0.15 Mbps download

Skype: 0.5 Mbps download / 0.5Mbps upload

Online Gaming: 1 Mbps download

Netflix: 1.5 Mbps download (5Mbps download for HD quality)

But remember that if more than one person is connected, these numbers add up on your connection. That means that if you and your spouse are both watching separate Netflix shows in HD and your kid is on Xbox Live, you'll need a connection of least 11Mbps to handle all the data.

How Does my Current Connection Stack Up?

As of 2014, the average internet connection in the US is 31Mbps (for downloads). You can see how you compare by taking the test below:

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