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What broadband speed do I need for streaming, vlogging, VoIP, the cloud and other online applications

Wednesday, November 22nd 2017

At the heavier end of our internet usage needs are a host of data-heavy tasks about which there is often scant clear information when it comes to speed and data requirements.

Covering everything from watching and broadcasting video over the internet to getting the edge in online multiplayer gaming, we set out to put some firm numbers against these tasks and offer advice on what kind of broadband deal you'll need to get the best results.

What speed do I need for watching movies and streaming TV in SD, HD or 4K UHD?

The speed required to watch video online depends on a number of different factors, primarily the resolution you intend to watch at, but also the service you intend to watch it on and – to a far smaller degree than either of those, what device you intend to watch it on. That's because each service uses different software to 'compress' the video before sending it. Compression minimises the speed taken up by what you're watching.

List of download speeds needed to watch various streaming services

Standard Definition (SD) High Definition (HD) Ultra-high Definition (UHD or 4K)
BBC iPlayer 1.5Mbps 2.8Mbps N/A
Netflix 3Mbps 5Mbps 25Mbps
Amazon Prime Instant Video 0.9Mbps 3.5Mbps 25Mbps
Now TV 2.5Mbps 5Mbps (estimated) N/A
YouTube 2Mbps 6Mbps 15Mbps

Beware: these estimates are minimums

Streaming service providers have a tendency to lean towards tempting the maximum amount of people to enjoy their services by stating speed minimums instead of likely realities. When streaming video, the actual speed required varies, depending on how much is 'changing' on-screen at any given time.

For example, a scene in a movie with a close-up of a person's face talking will require less bandwidth (or speed) than a scene with a million butterflies fluttering about. So, the speeds offered as minimums should be taken with a pinch of salt. If your broadband is anywhere close to one of these minimums, you should expect to experience occasional 'buffering' – where your video stops to wait for your broadband to catch up – when the action heats up.

Estimates vary, but if you want to be absolutely safe from buffering, you should double them, not least if you have other people in your household who also like to use the internet. Below are listed some of the best broadband packages in the country for those who want to stream their TV and movies over the internet.

  • Sky Unlimited Broadband

    Sky
    • Pay set-up cost today
    • Free Sky Q Hub router
    Free £50 Prepaid MasterCard
    £20
    £19.95 set-up cost includes line rental See Deal
  • BT Unlimited Infinity 1 + Calls

    BT
    • Pay nothing today
    • Weekend calls
    • UK's best Wi-Fi router
    Offer ends 14th December
    £31 .99
    £59.99 set-up cost includes line rental See Deal
  • SSE Unlimited Fibre Plus Broadband

    SSE
    • Pay nothing today
    • Free wireless router
    £30
    Zero set-up cost includes line rental See Deal

What speed do I need for live-streaming (broadcasting) video across the internet?

Unlike watching a stream, for which download speed is your primary concern, the confusingly similar-sounding 'live-streaming' (broadcasting your own video across the internet) requires a a capable upload speed. Unfortunately, since upload speeds are on average around a quarter of download speeds on most UK broadband packages, that means you're going to need a top-end connection.

List of upload speeds required for various live-streaming applications

480p (SD) 720p (low HD) 1080p (true HD)
Twitch 1.2Mbps upload 2.8Mbps upload 3.5Mbps upload
YouTube 2Mbps upload 4Mbps upload 6Mbps upload
Facebook Live 1Mbps upload minimum 1Mbps upload minimum 1Mbps upload minimum
Periscope 2Mbps upload minimum* 2Mbps upload minimum* 2Mbps upload minimum*
PlayStation 4 (Via Twitch) 1.2Mbps upload 2.8Mbps upload 3.5Mbps upload
Xbox One (Via Twitch) 1.2Mbps upload 2.8Mbps upload 3.5Mbps upload

*Periscope does not offer specific guidelines, only an overall minimum. Periscope will scale up the broadcast quality depending on how fast the connection it finds

Seven things you should know about broadcasting a live-stream of any kind

1. Upload speed is practically all that matters

Download speeds continue to pull focus in the broadband marketplace, but when you’re after a connection capable of pushing data to the web for live streaming, you really need to shine the spotlight on upload speeds. Luckily we have an in-depth guide on which broadband deals offer the best upload speed in the UK. You should continue your reading there.

2. Standard broadband (ADSL) probably won’t cut it

Standard broadband packages advertising download speeds of up to 17Mb will normally have a rather paltry upload speed of around 1Mb, but unless you live right next to your nearest cabinet, you're unlikely to get even that.

That only just about covers what some leading streaming platforms consider to be the absolute minimum required (0.7Mb to 1Mb) and is not well suited to a regular streaming schedule or those handling HD video.

3. Seek 5Mb upload or more

Your required upload speed will vary depending on your capture quality (e.g. 720p HD), your streaming platform (e.g. Periscope, Twitch) and whether you’re outputting a single stream direct to the web or multiple streams at variable bit rates via a video encoder.

In any case, your streaming service of choice will likely have its own recommended upload speed, but to save you the trouble of digging around, a bit rate of 5Mb or above is considered optimal for high definition video and multi bit rate streaming, making it a safe bet for both casual and pro users.

4. Fibre broadband is practically a must

For a more appropriate upload speed it’s best to turn your attention to a fibre optic broadband package, though you’re likely to notice a significant difference in the upload speeds that are available (between 1.9Mbps and 20Mbps).

Bear in mind that a good upload speed depends on the package you choose. Though all the providers listed above offer packages with an upload speed of 5Mbps or more, it is not available on all their packages. So make sure you pay close attention to the upload speed presented in our comparison listings.

Best broadband deals with fast upload speeds

5. Double check the broadband package you choose is unlimited

How much data you’ll go through for each live broadcast will depend on the quality of your video stream and the number of streams you’re outputting at once. To give you an idea, a single 30-minute broadcast (at 1080p HD) will consume around 1GB of data.

While you may be able to find a package with a usage cap that fits your live-streaming requirements, unlimited plans are recommended as a sensible precaution – after all, your usage limit will encompass everything you do online.

6. Traffic management policies don't normally apply to upload*

Some unlimited broadband packages are governed by traffic management policies to curb over-demanding usage, but this shouldn’t be an issue for live streaming as they generally only target activities such as peer-to-peer file sharing.

If you’re also planning to download a lot of data you might want to consider a truly unlimited plan as this won’t impose any restrictions on your usage. You can find out more about a providers traffic management policy before you sign up but they’re generally a non-issue for live steaming.

*7. Unless you're with Virgin Media!

Virgin Media’s traffic management policy applies to uploads between 4pm and 11pm on weekdays and 11am and 11pm on weekends (primetime!), throttling your speed by at least 50% if you exceed the set upload threshold in any given hour.

Deciding for yourself whether or not this will affect you comes down to your own live streaming activity – frequent live streamers and those with lengthier broadcasts may want to consider an alternate provider.

What speed do I need to use VoIP services like Skype and Facetime?

When you’re looking for the best broadband for Skype and Facetime, you need to take a package’s upload speed into consideration first and foremost. That's because if you find a package with a fast enough upload speed, it’s guaranteed to have a fast enough download speed.

Following that, make sure you get one with a usage cap that will allow you to make as many VoIP calls as you want on top of doing everything else you want to do online.

A list of upload and download speeds required for various VoIP video calling applications

Upload speed (min) Download speed (min) Upload speed (HQ*) Download speed (HQ*)
Skype 300Kbps 300Kbps 1.5Mbps 1.5Mbps
Facetime 1Mbps 1Mbps 2-3Mbps (estimated**) 2-3Mbps (estimated**)
Viber 1Mbps (estimated**) 1Mbps (estimated**) 2-3Mbps (estimated**) 2-3Mbps (estimated**)
Google Hangouts 300Kbps 300Kbps 3.2Mbps 2.6Mbps
Facebook Messenger 1Mbps (estimated**) 1Mbps (estimated**) 2-3Mbps (estimated**) 2-3Mbps (estimated**)

*HQ refers to the highest quality available with each service. In most cases this is 1080p HD

**In many cases the app provider doesn't give speed or data usage information. In these cases we have offered our educated guess

Three tips for perfect VoIP video calls*

*We are skipping details on VoIP voice calling here because it uses so little bandwidth – almost everyone can do it, no matter how fast or slow their internet connection is.

1. 1Mbps upload speed is enough for most calls

Most standard broadband packages with a download speed of 17Mbps come with a 1Mbps or 1.3Mbps upload speed. This slight variation depends on which provider you choose.

A 1Mb upload speed is enough to make voice calls and video calls, even high-quality video calls, but not fast enough to make video calls in high definition (HD, which is the best picture quality available from Skype).

  • Sky Unlimited Broadband

    Sky
    • Pay set-up cost today
    • Free Sky Q Hub router
    Free £50 Prepaid MasterCard
    £20
    £19.95 set-up cost includes line rental See Deal
  • BT Unlimited Broadband + Calls

    BT
    • Pay nothing today
    • Weekend calls
    • Free BT Home Hub 4 Wi-Fi router
    Offer ends 14th December
    £23 .99
    £9.99 set-up cost includes line rental See Deal
  • TalkTalk Fast Broadband

    TalkTalk
    • Pay nothing today
    • Includes Super Router
    Offer ends 21st December, No broadband setup fee & Fixed price for the contract length
    £19 .95
    Zero set-up cost includes line rental See Deal

2. Check what you can get at your address

Unfortunately, you’re not guaranteed the advertised upload speed, even if that’s how the package is advertised. In fact, there’s a good chance that it’ll be some degree slower than that.

This is because broadband speed slows down the further your property is from the nearest telephone exchange. Check with your chosen provider what your upload speed will be before you buy your package.

3. Fibre optic broadband has better upload speeds

Fibre optic broadband is a faster service than standard broadband. While choosing a fibre optic broadband package might seem like overkill for using VoIP services, it might be the only way to get an upload speed fast enough to use VoIP services if you live in a slow broadband area.

Compare fibre broadband deals

What speed do I need for cloud computing applications such as Dropbox and iCloud?

As with VoIP video calling, cloud computing is as reliant on a good upload speed as it is a good download speed. That's because it involves sending information to a remote location on the internet as well as receiving it.

As such, since information surrounding specific cloud services is not relevant to speed requirements – only to storage space and cost – the table we're providing here instead shows the upload and download speeds of the UK's most common packages from the biggest providers. You need only remember one thing here: More speed is always better when it comes to cloud computing.

Note, we have separated out Virgin Media and other networks (which all operate on BT's Openreach Network), as their speeds differ too greatly to fit into the same table structure.

A list of upload speeds for providers on the BT Openreach Network

Up to 17Mbps ADSL download Up to 38Mbps fibre download Up to 52Mbps fibre download Up to 76Mbps fibre download
BT 1Mbps upload N/A 9.5Mbps upload 19Mbps upload
TalkTalk 1Mbps upload 10Mbps upload N/A 19Mbps upload
Sky 1Mbps upload 10Mbps upload* N/A 19Mbps upload
Plusnet 1Mbps upload 9.5Mbps upload N/A 19Mbps upload

*Yes, Sky really does offer an upload speed on its basic fibre packages five times that of most of its competitors. We double-checked.

A list of upload speeds for Virgin Media broadband packages

Virgin Media has its own network, and as such its speeds differ from that of most other providers. Interestingly, though its download speeds largely exceed those offered by its competitors, its upload speeds are in many cases worse. Uploads are also traffic managed on Virgin, so if you use the cloud almost constantly, you can expect to have your connection throttled (slowed).

Up to 100Mbps download Up to 200Mbps download Up to 300Mbps download
Virgin Media 6Mbps upload 12Mbps upload 20Mbps upload

Compare Virgin Media deals

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What speed do I need for playing multiplayer games online on Xbox, PlayStation or PC?

This is actually quite a big question, with quite a big answer. That's why we've answered it far more fully in our detailed broadband for gaming guide. Head over there for a full answer.

If you want merely to cut to the chase, however, we can offer you this: it's less about speed and more about stability. Bad stability manifests itself in the form of things called latency and packet loss. The lowest measured quantities of latency and packet loss can be found in packages from these providers.

List of the best providers for latency and packet loss

Peak time latency 15ms 15ms 15ms 17ms 17ms 33ms
Peak time packet loss 0.11% 0.14% 0.16% 0.18% 0.55% 0.33%
Sky
Peak time latency
15ms
Peak time packet loss
0.11%
Virgin Media
Peak time latency
15ms
Peak time packet loss
0.14%
Plusnet
Peak time latency
15ms
Peak time packet loss
0.16%
BT
Peak time latency
17ms
Peak time packet loss
0.18%
EE
Peak time latency
17ms
Peak time packet loss
0.55%
TalkTalk
Peak time latency
33ms
Peak time packet loss
0.33%

List of the best broadband packages for online multiplayer gaming

And here are some of the best packages from the best providers for gamers.

  • Broadband
    Max download speed38Mb
    Max upload speed9.5Mb
    Monthly usageUnlimited
    Home Phone
    Daytime calls9.50ppm
    Evening calls9.50ppm
    Weekend calls9.50ppm
    Pricing & Contract
    Set-up cost£59.95
    Contract length18 months
    First year cost £527.83

    £38.99
    per month
    includes line rental

    0800 840 5394 0203 151 2395
  • Broadband
    Max download speed100Mb
    Max upload speed6Mb
    Monthly usageUnlimited
    Home Phone
    Daytime calls9.94ppm
    Evening calls9.94ppm
    Weekend callsInclusive
    Pricing & Contract
    Set-up cost£20
    Contract length12 months
    First year cost £428

    £34
    per month
    includes line rental

    0808 168 4947 0808 168 4947
  • Broadband
    Max download speed38Mb
    Max upload speed9.5Mb
    Monthly usageUnlimited
    Home Phone
    Daytime calls12.50ppm
    Evening calls12.50ppm
    Weekend calls12.50ppm
    Pricing & Contract
    Set-up cost£25
    Contract length12 months
    First year cost £324.88

    £24.99
    per month
    includes line rental

Why do we need your postcode?

Once you enter your postcode, Cable.co.uk will perform a live lookup and check all the available providers in your area.

This ensures you receive accurate information on the availability of providers and packages in your area.

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