How Much Bandwidth do I need to Stream or How to Improve your Streaming Experience!

Streaming Video has taken over the Internet as its number 1 consumer of total internet bandwidth. In fact, Netflix customers ALONE account for 15% of the world’s Internet traffic. 

Streaming Video is easy and pleasurable as long as the video doesn’t start and stop or the screen become pixelated. The average consumer has little knowledge of the “physics and metrics” involved in Streaming so this white paper’s goal is to explain the dynamics of streaming in a consumer-friendly manner and to help guide the readers to know how to maximize the pleasure of their streaming experience. 

About the Internet 

Let’s begin with the fact that the Internet is NOT a session-oriented network. If you think about how you use the internet interactively when you are not streaming, you: 

  • Type in a web site name (URL) and you press ENTER or click a mouse
      – Then you wait 

Shortly, your screen fills with content and then you read and while you are reading you are not using the internet…

This usage pattern of 1) Send information with a mouse click; 2) Wait; 3) Watch your screen fill; 4) read and wait; defines the non-session orientation of the design of the Internet. Because the Internet is not a session-oriented system, there are no built-in flow control mechanisms to assure that the endpoint consumer receives the content in a regular continuous stream.

TV watching is a “session-oriented” experience. The session begins when the TV show starts, and it ends when the TV Show ends and it is a single continuous stream of content arriving at your TV screen (if we eliminate the interruptions caused by commercials).

Traditional TV sources, antenna, cable and satellite were designed from the ground up to be session-oriented delivery services. If you could see the TV data coming down your Antenna line, Comcast cable or DirecTV Connection, you would see a continuous, never ending single directional flow of data arriving at your TV. Additionally, TVs and Radios are built with a memory buffer so that you can sustain a brief stream interruption and not notice it on your radio or TV. For example, if you are driving and listening to Sirius/XM radio and you drive through a short tunnel, you will not experience a loss of audio. That is because a few seconds worth of audio data is stored in the built-in buffer, enough to sustain the audio while you drive through the tunnel. Same thing in a TV. There is a small buffer to sustain the picture and audio as uninterrupted smooth flowing picture and sound even if there is a momentary “glitch” in the data transfer over the air, cable or satellite. 

It is essential for your TV data to arrive at a CONSISTENT RATE at your TV for you to see and hear a consistently flowing and moving TV video and audio experience. There is a small memory buffer in your TV, yes, but, if there are slowdowns along the internet due to traffic, then, your TV’s buffer runs dry and your TV picture motion and sound freeze and, depending upon the streaming system you are using, you may even see a pop up that says those hated words, “Buffering”, which means “waiting for data to arrive to fill up the buffer so that the TV can resume flowing the picture”. 

Different Video Resolution Definitions 

It takes MORE data per second to display an HD TV picture than it does to display a Standard Definition picture. There are many different Picture Definition Data Sizes and required data rates. The numbers vary a little depending upon which Streaming service’s publication you are reading but, the numbers below are representative and technically accurate: 

  • Standard Definition – 1-2.3mbps 
  • High Definition 720p – 2.3-4.5mbps 
  • High Definition 1080p – 4.5-9mbps 
  • 3DTV–9mbps+ 
  • 4KTV–11to25mbps
    So, why, you ask, can I watch a High Def Netflix movie on my 2mbps connection? The reason is that Netflix and Hulu and other streaming services “downgrade” your TV signal when they detect that your connection is too slow. That is, they change the standard 1080p signal into 720p or even standard def.
    All of these numbers assume a perfect environment; that is: 
  • no traffic between the service provider’s (Netflix, for example) server and your TV, no WiFi signal interference in your home created by:
    • Sun Spots,
    • environmental variables,
    • your neighbors’ WiFi routers,
    • your wireless DirecTV receivers, wireless printers or
    • your Microwave oven (yes it uses microwaves that are at the same frequency used by your cellphone, wireless router and TVs)

But the fact is that the Internet group of fiber circuits looks a lot like the highway map of the USA, complete with intersections where circuits connect. It is at these intersections where traffic jams occur, just like on the US Highway system. When traffic jams occur, data transfer slows down. Now, remember your TV stream is just a small fraction of the data that is jammed up at the intersection, and by the time that it clears the traffic jam, your TV memory buffer may have run dry. 

Recommendations to Maximize the Pleasure of Your Streaming Experience! 

  1. Virtually all Movies are 1080p. The minimum bandwidth you should have for one (1) TV to consistently experience great video and audio is 8mbps. But, when internet traffic is at its worst in the evenings, or holidays and weekends, more bandwidth is needed to get enough data into your TV’s buffer to transit the slowdowns! We call that extra speed or bandwidth “Head Room”. So, 10 or more mbps will increase your headroom and make your experience even more consistent.
  2. If more than one TV is operating in the house at the same time or if others are downloading or gaming, you are going to need more bandwidth to accommodate the sum of their demands!
  3. Attach your Viewing Screens to your network via ethernet cables. Don’t use Wireless connections. 
  • a. We have consistently tested and demonstrated that the ambient interference in most homes in most neighborhoods will result in pixilation or other video and audio distortions. 

New Homes 

If you’re building a new home, run ethernet cables to every room (while the walls are open) from the location where your Service Provider’s signal will enter your home! Use a minimum of shielded Category 6 (1 gigabit) or better shielded Cat 6A (10 gigabits) cable. Plan to connect ALL your fixed devices using cable. Put Wi-Fi access points (like Ubiquity In-Wall APs) in multiple rooms through out your home, spaced every few rooms, and connect those access points via the ethernet cable network you have run. Use WiFi only for hand held devices. 

Existing Homes 

  1. Consider installing Ethernet Cables to your TVs. An Electrician can help you get this done.
    a. Use shielded CAT6 minimum (1 gigabit) but shielded CAT6A is recommended for future growth
  2. Never use Wi-Fi extenders. They cut your usable bandwidth in half (50% Reduction). 
  3. In large homes, install multiple Wi-Fi access points, ethernet connected back to your
  4. Set your Wi-Fi access points up as bridges, not routers and let a single router that joins the Service Provider’s Internet connection act as the DHCP router for your entire network. 

AireBeam can help you build or fix your Streaming network environment. We can work with your electrician, providing the consulting engineering services to guide your electrician to select and run the cables correctly. Once run, an AireBeam technician can connectorize the cables for you and test them. 

Recommendations for Streaming Devices 

Many TVs have built in Apps, but, the most prolific source of apps, both fee and free, is available with Roku . Roku is a product that adds streaming capability to any TV set that has an HDMI connector. There are three principal form factors in which a Roku can be purchased: 

  • 1)  An HDMI stick device that plugs directly into the TV’s HDMI connector –
  • 2)  A standalone device that provides both ethernet and wireless connections to the Internet as well as an HDMI cable to connect to the TV –
  • 3)  TVs from several manufacturers with the Roku functionality imbedded in the TV a.

The TCL brand of Roku TVs is very, very economically available at Walmart. I recently purchased a 55” Flat Screen 4K capable TCL Roku TV for under $400 at Walmart. 

Contact us by chat at or by Text at 520-510-0909