With literally half the people in the world currently under stay-at-home orders, many of those people are passing the time by streaming.
That's a lot of streaming, clearly, which has led to both a surge in subscriptions to every major streaming service, and several of the major technology companies agreeing to throttle their Internet speeds in Europe. Video streaming, after all, puts much more of a strain on networks than any other form of Internet traffic.
Therefore, especially with a lot more people on a lot more devices home at the same time, it's imperative to have a strong-enough home Internet connection in able to handle that load.
How strong, exactly?
According to Consumer Reports, 4K HDR video requires a bit rate of 18 Megabytes per second (Mbps.) HD (1080p) requires 8 Mbps, while standard definition (SD) requires only 1 Mbps. Audio-i.e., your Alexa-enabled speaker or Sonos system, requires much less, 128 kilobits per second.
Per that report, streaming companies put the minimum for streaming high-definition shows at 5 Mbps, but that's only for one user at a time. The time of social distancing, in many households, is not one for one user at a time. Netflix, for their part, recommends 25 Mbps speed for 4K.
Which one are you using? It's important to note-just because you own a 4K TV, doesn't mean you're watching in 4K. The majority of TV programming is not in 4K, and your Netflix or Hulu streaming is only coming in 4K if you've subscribed to a 4K plan.
It's hard to find recent numbers as to what percentage of Netflix subscribers subscribe to 4K plans, but a 2018 Parks Associates survey put the percentage of Netflix subscribers in the "premium" tier, which makes 4K available, at 30 percent.
The government agrees. According to guidelines from the FCC, in its Household Broadband Guide, for "Advanced Service” — "Basic functions plus more than one high-demand application running at the same time," for four users or devices at a time — it's recommended that households utilize a speed of more than 25 Mbps. You can probably get away with slower service if you live alone or don't watch much streaming video.
But otherwise? Keep your speed up to 25 Mbps at least, when you're picking out a router or wireless Internet plan with your ISP.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons.