A close up of the Technicolor E31T2V1 modem from Spectrum Internet
Corbin Davenport / How-To Geek

Gigabit internet has become a gold standard regarding broadband adoption and determining whether or not your location has “good” internet access. But it’s overhyped, you probably don’t need it, and you can save hundreds of dollars a year by downgrading.

You Don’t Need Gigabit for General Household Use

It might sound like we’re trying to start a fight, but hear us out. Yes, internet service providers (ISPs) make a very big deal about how awesome gigabit internet is. Yes, having gigabit internet is pretty cool, especially if you waited ages to get fiber in your neighborhood. But gigabit-speed internet is overkill for nearly everyone and akin to owning a barely-street-legal performance car when most of your driving time is spent getting groceries and commuting to work. For every moment you get the chance to floor it on the open road, you spend most of the year paying for the priviledge.

If you listen to ISP marketing, they make it sound like gigabit speed is crucial to daily life. Whether you’re looking at the adcopy for AT&T, Verizon, Cox, or Spectrum, you’ll find all sorts of examples of the following claims: the faster fiber packages are important for pro-level gaming, you need the premium package to max out how many devices you can use on your network, and so on. They make it sound like without gigabit internet, you might as well be using dialup.

AT&T offers 5 Gbps connections in some markets, for example. The company rather ludicriously suggests that you purchase it for “elite gaming and truly immersive experiences,” as if there was any gaming service on earth that could saturate a 5 Gbps connection. The adcopy, of course, neglects to mention that you wouldn’t even be able to take advantage of a 5 Gbps connection without spending a significant amount of money on upgrading your network gear and devices, and even if you did that, you’d be all dressed up with nowhere to go.

an image of fiber package pricing.
Besides bragging rights, 5 Gbps internet doesn’t come with any benefits.

But ISPs aren’t going to tell you that you’d likely be perfectly happy with their least expensive package. It costs them the same amount of money to maintain the broadband network to your home whether you’re using a 100 Mbps internet package or a 5 Gbps internet package. So why would they want you to pay $30 a month when you could be paying more?

If you’re paying $80 a month for AT&T’s “1 Gig” gigabit plan and you downgrade to their $55 a month 300 Mbps plan, there is a good chance you will never notice the difference. But you will save $300 a year.

Need a little convincing? Let’s take a look at how bandwidth you really need for day to day activities to show how infrequently the average home would actually saturate a gigabit fiber connection.

How Much Bandwidth Do You Really Need?

ISPs tell you that you need gigabit fiber to enjoy a good gaming experience, smooth video streaming through services like Netflix and HBO Max, and for online learning or remote work.

Don’t get us wrong, having reliable broadband access is very important for remote work, enjoying streaming video content, and so on. But reliable doesn’t mean the fastest internet speed available your area.

When we took a deep dive into analyzing the actual bandwidth demands a modern home imposes by looking at both how much download speed and upload speed the average person needs, our conclusion was that for the majority of people, a symmetric 100 Mbps down/100 Mbps up fiber connection was the sweet spot.

What makes us say that with such confidence? The recommended minimum download speed for a 4K video stream is 15 Mbps. Activities like browsing social media, gaming, video conferencing, and watching HD video only require about 5 Mbps. General web browsing and streaming require even less, only adding about 2-3 Mbps.

How often are multiple people in your household streaming 4K video in parallel, with other people also gaming, sitting on a video call for work, and browsing social media? A good rule of thumb is that you need about 25 Mbps of bandwidth for each active internet user in your home, based on the assumption that there might be a point where everyone is using the internet in a demanding way simultaneously.

In a four-person household like, say, two parents and two teenagers, a gigabit internet connection offers ten times that speed per person. There’s no practical need for each user to have 200-250 Mbps of dedicated bandwidth or, when demand is low, the whole gigabit connection. Maybe some day in the future, when we have 16K streaming video and holodeck setups, people will need that kind of bandwidth, but they don’t need it today.

But for most people, when you’re paying an extra $300+ a year for faster internet, you’re really paying for a small amount of infrequently delivered convenience. Unless you’re downloading large files for work or a hobby every single day—and getting those files marginally faster is a make-or-break situation for you—it just doesn’t matter that much.

For example, on a completely saturated 300 Mbps connection, it would take around 45 minutes to download a massive 100GB video game. On a gigabit connection, it would take around 14 minutes. (All of this, of course, assumes that you have a perfect connection and that the remote server can deliver the maximum speed your connection supports.) Cut that game size down to a less extreme size, like 30 GB, and it changes to 13 minutes and 4 minutes, respectively.

We can’t speak for everyone, but if we had to pick between “spend $300 a year on video games” or “spend $300 a year getting video game downloads a little faster,” it’s not hard to decide where we’d rather spend our money.

When Should You Actually Pay for Gigabit?

There are a few exceptions to our stance on encouraging everyone to downgrade broadband to a lower package: When you desperately need more upload bandwidth and if your broadband package is bundled with a service you’d pay for anyway.

You Need the Upload Speed

While fiber internet is almost always synchronous (your upload speed and download speed are equal), cable-based broadband is asynchronous (your upload and download speed are different).

Upload speed is important if you have a lot of security cameras you wish to access remotely or you have lots of people at home doing upload-dependent things like video conferencing or streaming game content. And it’s quite important if you’re self-hosting a lot of data-intensive services—if you want your local Plex server to be a Netflix replacement or to host a personal cloud service from your home, you’ll need a lot of upload speed.

Unfortunately It is really common for cable companies only to offer higher upload speeds if you buy the top tier packages. Spectrum, for example, only offers 10 Mbps upload on their lowest tier package but that climbs up to 35-40 Mbps on their “gigabit” packages.

If you find that the lower packages simply don’t offer enough upload bandwidth to support the needs of your household, the cable company effectively has you hostage. Even if you only need 200-300 Mbps download, you’ll be stuck paying for the gigabit package to get a meager 40 Mbps upload speed.

But beyond that situation, we think you’ll find you simply don’t need to pay for the top-tier packages. The difference between 300/300, 500/500, 1000/1000, or the even higher packages some fiber companies offer just isn’t readily apparent for the average family.

You’re Getting a Great Bundle Discount

The other exception is if you’re getting an additional benefit from the broadband package that offsets another bill you’d be paying anyway.

For example, AT&T offered HBO Max to subscribers who purchased their 1, 2, or 5 Gbps plans up until June of 2022. If you downgrade from one of those packages to a lower package now, you’ll lose the “free” HBO Max. Given that HBO Max is $16 a month, dropping from the 1 Gbps plan to the 500 Mbps plan would save you cost you a dollar (you’d save $15, but have to spend $16 to get HBO Max). And if you dropped down to the 300 Mbps plan, you wouldn’t save $25 a month. You’d save $9 a month (again, factoring in the cost of keeping HBO Max).

So be sure to factor in anything that is part of a streaming bundle, discount on your cell service, or another benefit that is part of the bundle you’re paying for.

Forget Paying for Gigabit; Get a Better Router

Assuming you don’t have a sweet grandfathered deal where you get a huge discount on other services, the best use of your money isn’t to keep paying for gigabit internet you don’t really take advantage of. The best use of your money is to upgrade your router because you don’t need gigabit internet, you need a modern router.

It’s rare people with broadband connections above a certain speed (that 25 Mbps per person we mentioned earlier) are unhappy with their internet speed. What they’re really unhappy with is their crappy old router that can’t keep up with a house full of dozens of Wi-Fi-connected devices.

So forget throwing away $300-500 a year on upgraded broadband that you’re not even maxing out. Spend that money once on a new Wi-Fi router and enjoy a smoother experience on all your devices.

The Best Wi-Fi Routers of 2023

ASUS AX6000 (RT-AX88U)
Best Wi-Fi Router Overall
ASUS AX6000 (RT-AX88U)
TP-Link Archer AX3000 (AX50)
Best Budget Router
TP-Link Archer AX3000 (AX50)
TP-Link Archer A8
Best Cheap Router
TP-Link Archer A8
ASUS GT-AX11000 Tri-Band Router
Best Gaming Router
ASUS GT-AX11000 Tri-Band Router
ASUS ZenWiFi AX6600 (XT8) (2 Pack)
Best Mesh Wi-Fi Router
ASUS ZenWiFi AX6600 (XT8) (2 Pack)
TP-Link Deco X20
Best Budget Mesh Router
TP-Link Deco X20
NETGEAR Nighthawk CAX80
Best Modem Router Combo
NETGEAR Nighthawk CAX80
ExpressVPN Aircove
Best VPN Router
ExpressVPN Aircove
TP-Link AC750
Beat Travel Router
TP-Link AC750
ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000
Best Wi-Fi 6E Router
ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000
Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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