What Is Mbps?

Here’s everything you need to know about megabits per second and internet performance.

When it comes to internet speeds, it’s important to understand what megabits per second (Mbps) means. Mbps is a way to measure how fast your internet connection can transfer data like YouTube videos or Facebook photos from a website to your computer.

But what if you can’t tell the difference between a megabit or a gigabyte? Have no fear—we’ll explain what Mbps stands for and how internet service providers use Mbps.

What does Mbps mean?

If you’ve ever recorded a video on your phone or shared a photo in your WhatsApp group, you’re probably familiar with file size measurements like megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB). Every file takes up a little bit of data on your device, whether it’s a 3 MB photo or a larger 1 GB movie.

Unit Equivalent size
kilobit (Kb) 1,000 bits
megabit (Mb) 1,000 kilobits
gigabit (Gb) 1,000 megabits

Mbps refers to how much data (megabits) your internet connection can send in one second.

For example, let’s say you have a 100 Mbps internet connection and you’re trying to send a 1,000 megabit file to someone. Since your internet connection can transfer 100 megabits of data every second, it’ll take around 10 seconds to finish sending all 1,000 megabits.

Megabits vs. megabytes

In the real world, the math behind megabits and download speeds can get a little messy.

While internet speeds are measured in megabits (abbreviated as Mb) per second, file sizes are measured in megabytes (abbreviated as MB). In a move that makes us pull our hair out, megabytes and megabits also mean different things—one megabyte is equal to eight megabits.

In practice, this means that your actual download speeds will be different than our on-paper example above. It’ll typically take around 90 seconds to download a one-gigabyte file on a 100 Mbps internet plan, and your exact download time will vary depending on your internet provider’s network.

These days, the download speeds on most internet plans are measured in Mbps, but that’s not the only way to list internet data transfer speeds.

Elder millennial or Gen X readers remember the dark days of dial-up phone modems and blazingly slow 56 Kbps download speeds. On the other end of the speed scale, some internet service providers have gigabit internet plans with download speeds between 2,000 Mbps and 5,000 Mbps.

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Mbps and internet plans

Whether you’re looking for internet service plans or shopping for Wi-Fi equipment, you’ll likely see Mbps mentioned next to a lot of technical information. If you’re on the market for a new internet setup, here’s what you’ll need to know about Mbps.

Measuring download and upload speeds

When you’re checking out an internet service provider’s plans, the first stat you’ll see is the plan’s maximum download speed listed in Mbps.

Download speeds determine how fast your internet connection can send data from a website to your computer. Fast download speeds are important if you’re regularly online gaming, watching Netflix, or living in a household with multiple devices that need the internet. Most internet providers have plans with download speeds between 25 and 940 Mbps.

Shopping for a Wi-Fi router or cable modem?

Wireless routers and modems often list Mbps on the box, but don’t confuse that with your internet speed. This stat refers to the maximum internet speed the device can support and isn’t as important as your internet plan’s download speed.

Check out our guide to the best modem/router combos to learn more about Wi-Fi equipment.

Upload speeds aren’t as well-publicized as download speeds but don’t forget to look for them when you’re researching internet plans.

Upload speeds refer to how quickly your computer can send data from your home to the internet. Cable internet providers typically have slow upload speeds—most plans have upload speeds between 3 and 30 Mbps—although fiber internet providers have upload speeds of up to 940 Mbps.

Upload speeds don’t need to be as fast as download speeds, but fast upload speeds are still valuable if you regularly take video calls (Zoom recommends an upload speed of at least 3 Mbps) or upload photos online. You can quickly move files onto your iCloud account or ensure a smooth Zoom session with fast upload speeds.

Pro tip: According to the Federal Communications Commission, the minimum speeds for broadband internet are 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads.

How many Mbps do I need?

To find the best internet plan for your home, take a second to list your household’s internet habits. Are you just using the internet to check your email? Do you have family members who do regular Valorant sessions or streaming TV nights?

We’d recommend an internet plan with at least 100 Mbps download speeds and upload speeds of around 10 Mbps for most households. With these internet speeds, you’ll have enough bandwidth for most basic tasks without breaking your budget. Most internet providers should have a 100 Mbps plan that costs less than $50 per month.

Interested in affordable internet?

Check out our cheap internet guide to learn more about the most affordable internet plans.

If your home’s internet needs are a little more demanding than the occasional Facebook post (or if you’re lucky enough to land a great internet deal), we’d recommend upgrading to at least a 200 Mbps plan to avoid running into future bandwidth issues. Check out our internet speed guide to learn more about what Mbps means to your home internet.

Download speed Best for Household size
25-100 Mbps Basic web browsing, watching YouTube videos 1–3 people
100-300 Mbps Regular video calls, online gaming, watching videos in 4K 3–5 people
300-1,000+ Mbps Daily video calls, regularly downloading new games, multiple people who work from home 5+ people

Final take

Mbps is just a simple abbreviation, but it can mean a lot of things when it comes to home internet. If you’re shopping for a new internet plan, remember that Mbps will be your main way to measure your download speeds and internet performance.

Our baseline recommendation for most people will be an internet plan with at least 100 Mbps download speeds. Upgrade to at least a 200 Mbps plan if your household has more than a few people who regularly work from home or stream TV shows in 4K.

What is Mbps FAQ

What is a good Mbps speed?

100 Mbps will be a good download speed for most households. We’d recommend plans with download speeds of less than 100 Mbps only if you’re under a budget or just use the internet for web browsing. If you have a large family that regularly watches Hulu or Netflix, consider internet plans with a download speed of at least 200 Mbps.

What is good Mbps for Wi-Fi?

Instead of comparing listed Mbps between Wi-Fi routers, look for whether a router supports the Wi-Fi 6 standard. Wi-Fi 6 routers offer the fastest wireless performance for your home network.

Is 100 Mbps fast or slow?

100 Mbps is decent for a home internet plan. The Federal Communication Commission’s minimum speed requirement for broadband internet is 25 Mbps, but some providers offer plans with speeds up to 5,000 Mbps.

Is Mbps fast internet?

Mbps is the most common way to measure home internet speeds. It’s a faster measurement compared to kilobits per second (kbps), but not as fast as gigabits per second (Gbps).

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