Internet Connections

A high speed internet connection is the most important component of streaming. Without internet, you can’t stream.

Internet speed is measured using Mbps (mega bytes per second). There are two numbers used to describe the internet speed, download speed and upload speed.  General rule of thumb is that you will need 5 Mbps download for HD streaming and 25 Mbps download for 4K streaming (you will only want to stream in 4K if you have a 4K TV).

However, you also have to take into account how many devices are on your home network.  How many TVs will be streaming at the same time? How many smart phones, tablets, laptops, or smart home devices (thermostats, cameras, doorbells, light switches, etc) are on your network?  All of these will slow your connection down.

Unfortunately, I am not (yet?) tech savvy enough to have a formula to figure this out for you.  But I do have some advice, start with a slower speed than you think you might need.  It will be easier to know if you need to go up in speed than if you can go down.

At my house we have 100 Mbps internet plan.  It has worked well for us, we haven’t had noticeable lag or issues connecting. We have:

  • One TV with streaming service
    • (We have 2 more TVs that are rarely used)
  • One tablet
  • Two smart phones
  • Two Echo dots
  • Nest Thermostat
  • One laptop

It isn’t often that all of these devices are using the network at the same time.  If you have 1,000 laptops but only use one at a time, it won’t slow down your connection as much as having 3 laptops going at the same time.

I suggest starting with an internet plan with a speed of at least 25 Mbps.

If you plan to stream in 4K definition, you will need faster internet.  I suggest you start with 75 Mbps.

If you find that a slower speed isn’t working for you, it will always be easier to call up your internet provider and go up in speed.  It will be harder for you to negotiate a slower speed.  So start slower than you think, go up if you need it.

Data Caps

Please be aware of data caps. This means that your internet provider has set a cap on the amount of internet you can use per month (despicable!).

Your data use will jump when you start streaming TV.   Look into what fees you will incur if you go over your data or if you can upgrade to unlimited data. How much data you use per month will vary greatly depending on how much TV you watch and how many TVs are streaming at the same time.

My home internet does not have a data cap, but this is a practice that a lot of internet providers have adopted.

To help combat this problem, some streaming services allow you to choose how much data their service uses. The lower the data usage (or max bandwidth) the lower the picture quality will be.

If you have a data cap on your internet usage, you will not want to stream in 4K.

For example, Sling TV offers options for max bandwidth allowed:

  • Best Quality – no limit
  • High Quality – 2.8 Mb/s
  • Medium Quality – 1.2 Mb/s
  • Low Quality – 0.8 Mb/s

Can I use my cell phone’s hot spot to stream?

Sort of.  Technically, it will work but there are a few issues with this idea.

First, even if you have an “unlimited hot spot” plan with your cell phone carrier, they will still throttle your speed once you reach a certain data limit.

This means that once you use your hot spot for X amount of time, they will make your speed really slow. This will make your streaming service run really slow, you might experience buffering and lag times – these things are extremely annoying.

Second, I do use the hot spot from my cell phone for my Roku and Fire Stick when I do streaming consultations with clients.  (It’s just much easier and some people don’t feel comfortable giving out their home internet password – understandable)

Using my hot spot, the connection is always always always slower.  I usually place my cell phone right next to the streaming device and I’m not doing anything else on my phone at the time.

I always tell my clients that using a hot spot will mean slower service.  When their streaming device is hooked up to their home internet, it will be faster than my demonstration using my hot spot.

SO.  You can use a hot spot to stream but your experience will be lacking.  You’ll experience greater load times and probably buffering.  Once you hit a certain data limit (depends on your carrier and your cell phone plan) the speeds on your connection will be even lower.  I do not recommend using a hot spot to stream. 

If you must use your cell phone because you don’t have home internet or your home internet is temporarily not working, I suggest connecting your phone directly to your TV.  You can use an Lightning to HDMI adapter (for an iPhone) or a HDMI to micro USB (for Android phones).

This will take exactly what is on your phone and put it on your TV.  You will not be able to use your phone for anything else while you watch TV.  I know a lot of us like to surf on our phones while we watch TV, so this would be a deal breaker for me, except in an “emergency” situation.

Bottom Line:

Start with 25 Mbps if you have moderate (or less) use of devices and plan to stream in HD.  Start with 75 Mbps if you plan to stream in 4K.

Be aware of potential data caps

I do not recommend using a hot spot to stream.  You will have an inferior experience.

Let’s move on to Internet Providers