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I'm looking to get an internet connection for my place (I have been using work, school and coffee shops) and I'm wondering how much bandwidth I really need to do different kinds of things? Google turns up lots of stuff but more than 1/2 are for servers and none of the rest give a "To do A you need X Mb" list. I'm looking for a general answer but, merely as a for example, what about streaming video from hulu or reasonably painless (aka HTTP limited by something I don't control) downloading of large files?

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You don't need a ton, but you do need a good amount. In general 1 Mb/sec is enough for low quality stuff.

For the 480p Hulu videos and YouTube videos you'll want at least 3 Mb/sec, and even then it might get a little choppy if you don't have a very solid connection. For the extreme streaming video (1080i or whatever YouTube is offering now) I don't think there is a connection big enough. I've been on 30 Mb/sec high bandwidth connections and still get delays.

The best experience I have is with 5 Mb/sec. No delays, always fully buffered, and I can choose the highest quality I want.

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I can say for sure that an OC-48 (the 2.5Gb up-link that my University had) can give you all you could ever want and then some. OTOH they need $.25M in new hardware to get it up and running and the targeted-at-students apartments that went in had some kind of 10Gb link so who knows :). –  BCS Apr 26 '10 at 1:20
    
Yeah, but I don't think I could handle that much bandwidth. I'd be too tempted to torrent everything. :) –  Josh K Apr 26 '10 at 1:37
    
Ahhh. Torrents. The bane of IT. I knew the guy who set up the filtering and he said that if they didn't restrict torrents as far as they could (to zero where they could) there wouldn't be room for anything else :) –  BCS Apr 26 '10 at 1:52
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Torrents suck bandwidth by nature, even when you try and limit them they flood the routers IP lookup table with requests. Hundreds of peers per torrent will kill just about any network setup bar commercial routers and switches with some very specialized settings. –  Josh K Apr 26 '10 at 2:52
    
30mbps should be plenty for 1080p. YouTube 1080 is somewhere around 8mbps average, with higher peaks. –  derobert Jan 27 '13 at 6:54
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Bandwidth is not as important as latency.

Wireless connections are typically high latency. That means it takes a long time for the connection to get data and confirm it was received.

Wi-fi and 3G connections are usually not as good for streaming video as a wired connection that plugs directly into your computer.

Satellite and microwave connections are also poor applications for streaming video.

The reason for this is that most video streaming servers expect your computer to go "I got it" after each chunk of video sent to you. If it takes a long time for your computer to get back to the server and say "I got it," the server will wait until it hears back from your computer to send more video, so your video may stop and start a lot.

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No, latency is not the determining factor. It can help, but unless you have serious network problems it won't have the effect it will have on say VOIP or networked games. –  Josh K Apr 26 '10 at 12:15
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