Why you probably don't need multi-gig speed
Internet providers throughout the US are selling plans with speeds faster than 1 Gbps—also known as multi-gig or hyper-gig internet. Multi-gig internet is theoretically fast enough for dozens of simultaneous video streams or hundreds of video conference calls.
Our experts say there’s no practical use for these speeds at home in 2023, and they encourage shoppers to avoid these plans in favor of cheaper (and slower) plans.
The reasons include equipment inadequacies, an internet that’s not ready for multi-gig speeds, and plain old practicality. But first, let’s get some of the technical stuff straight.
How internet speeds work
Internet speed is measured by how much data you can push through a connection at any given time, and most internet plans are sold based on the max speeds available. But what does that mean for everyday internet usage?
First, it helps to understand that data is measured in bits, where a bit is the smallest piece of data computers can recognize (such as a single punctuation mark on this page). In the early days of the internet, connections could push through just 56 kilobits (or 56,000 bits) per second. In the 2010s, internet speeds in the range of 100 Mbps (one hundred million bits) became more widely available.
Today, almost all cable and fiber internet providers offer speeds in the range of 500 Mbps or more, and many of the top providers sell speeds of 1 Gbps or higher. That means 1 billion bits per second!
Right now, it’s probably more than almost any household needs.
Data is usually measured in bytes, not bits. There are 8 bits in a byte. Typically, bytes are abbreviated in KB, MB, and GB. Transmission speeds, on the other hand, are measured in bits and usually abbreviated Kbps, Mbps, and Gbps.
Learn more about the MB, GB, Mbps, and Gbps acronyms.
What you can do with 1 Gbps internet
We did the math, and here’s a look at how fast you could download some common files with a gigabit connection (under ideal circumstances):
- A 3 GB smartphone update: ~25 seconds
- A 40 GB video game: ~330 seconds
- A TV show in HD: 4 seconds
We also did the math on how much content you could stream at once if you could achieve a true 1 Gbps speed at home (under ideal circumstances):
- Video streams in HD: 67
- Video streams in 4K: 40
- Videos calls in HD: 250
Needless to say, there aren’t too many households out there that have 67 screens, each streaming a different video on Netflix at the same time. A household where 250 people would need to be watching a Zoom call at once would also be pretty rare.
We get that you also need to consider reliability, latency, equipment, and more when you’re deciding on an internet service. But first, we need to clear up a little more confusion around acronyms.
What do 5G and 6G mean?
In the mobile phone industry, the letter G can stand for generation instead of gigabit. 5G service, for example, means fifth-generation cellular network. The tech uses millimeter wave, or mmWave, over the same frequencies as the 4G we know and love (plus a new cellular spectrum, but we won’t get into that here). Different providers use different bands (T-mobile uses low-band wireless spectrum, for instance, while AT&T and Verizon use high-band spectrum). High-band is faster but has less reach, while low-band can reach more customers and get through obstacles better, but is overall slower.
Similarly, 6G means the sixth generation of wireless tech. It’s still in development, but could be a lot faster than 5G. It could be even fast enough for new artificial intelligence applications and virtual reality gaming on the go. (1)
Ghz, which you might see on your router, means something different altogether.
What is 10G?
The most important thing to know about 10G internet is that it does not mean 10 Gbps speeds. It may not even stand for generation. Instead, 10G is a marketing term created by a consortium of cable TV and internet providers (notably, Xfinity) for a new kind of cable network technology. (2) In a nutshell, if a provider is claiming it’s internet service is 10G, that means it’s using a more decentralized network and making upload speeds faster with new combinations of fiber and cable tech. There are also benefits for reliability and latency, which is a big deal for gaming and video conferencing.
So far, speeds up to 4 Gbps (4,000 Mbps) have been achieved on 10G networks, and companies are already bragging about the possibility of synchronous multi-gig speeds. Fiber internet, in comparison, has theoretical synchronous speed limits of 44 Tbps (terabits per second)—44,000 GBS—but the fastest plans we’ve seen are 10 Gbps.
We like that the new 10G network will work on cable lines already installed in millions of homes, and it’s great to see the possibility of symmetrical speeds from a cable provider. The name is confusing, but keep in mind that bandwidth speeds and reliability are the most important thing to consider when choosing an internet provider (not whatever they call their tech).
What are multi-gig speeds good for?
Multi-gig refers to speeds faster than 1 Gbps, and you may be able to buy plans this fast from both fiber and cable internet providers, depending on where you live. You’re most likely to find plans with top speeds of 2–5 Gbps.
What you could do with 2 gigs
- Download a 40 GB video game in ~164 seconds
- Download a new world in VR chat in 0.8 seconds
- Stream 133 shows on Netflix in HD, all at once
- Have 500 simultaneous one-on-one video calls in HD
Having access to 2 Gbps of speed is already more than most people need, but there’s also the issue of diminishing returns to think about. Downloading a big file on a 100 Mbps connection to a 1 Gbps one would feel a lot faster, but increasing from 1 Gbps to 2 Gbps, or 2 Gbps to 5 Gbps, would feel like less and less of a difference.
Myths about multi-gig speeds
Many of the providers we review cite gaming, cryptocurrency mining and IoT (internet of things) devices as reasons why you might need their fastest plans, but Switchful’s research shows that’s not the case
Read what providers are saying about selling these speeds and about why you can’t get multi-gig speeds at home as we set the record straight.
Should you buy the fastest internet plan available?
We don’t think most people should buy the fastest internet offered, but it depends on what kind of internet is available at your home address. If you have access to just satellite or DSL internet, you’ll be offered speeds of anywhere from 3 Mbps to about 100 Mbps. If you use the internet like most households, you’ll probably want to go with those top speeds
If you have cable or fiber internet available at your home, though, you probably don’t need to buy the highest-tier plan. In fact, we recommend going with the slowest plan you think you might need, and upgrading only if you run into bandwidth issues. That’s because most providers are happy to let you upgrade, but you might run into issues with contracts if you try to downgrade.
Learn more about how much speed you need and check out our list of the fastest internet providers we’ve reviewed.
Rebecca Palmer has been writing about tech and consumer finance since 2010. Her work has been featured in the Deseret News, Idaho Business Review, TopTenReviews.com, and more. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, and lives in Salt Lake City with her exceptionally delightful pup, Nymeria.
Bri Field has a background in academia, research writing, and brand marketing. She has edited scientific publications, conference papers, digital content, and technical communications. As Assigning Editor, she enjoys ensuring all content is accurate, clear, and helpful. In her free time, you can find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, out on a hike, or working through her massive TBR list.
Michal directs the Switchful content strategy and leads the editorial team. With a bachelor’s degree in Communications, she has more than a decade of experience in the world of marketing communications. Her diverse career has included public relations, brand development, digital strategies, and more; her key skillset has always been centered around strategic efforts for consumer-focused initiatives. In her free time, you can find her camping with friends, chasing waterfalls on her kayak, or searching for the best restaurants in Salt Lake City.