The speed of an Internet connection is now typically measured in megabits per second, or "Mbps." While many basic activities, such as downloading a simple e-mail or loading a basic web page, do not require high-speed connections, various Internet applications increasingly demand faster speeds. For these applications, the substantive difference between using 2 Mbps or 3 Mbps for Internet service could be substantial.
The Need for Speed
While checking email may not require a lightning-fast Internet connection, watching streaming video or playing an online multiplayer game requires speed that not all Internet providers can handle. For example; Netflix recommends a download speed of at least 1.5 Mbps for its streaming service, and notes that beyond that threshold, speed directly affects picture quality. The online gaming service OnLive requires at least 3 Mbps and recommends 5 Mbps, which makes it difficult or impossible to use a 2-Mbps connection.
Cable and DSL
While the connection speeds offered by broadband providers constantly increase, cable and DSL remain two of the most popular options. While DSL may sometimes be cheaper, cable usually has higher speed options and greater availability. Those deciding between 2 Mbps and 3 Mbps may find the question moot after investigating their DSL options, as DSL speeds can be limited by geography and, in some cases, slower than 1 Mbps.
Upload vs. Download
It's important when investigating the speed of a potential broadband connection to understand the difference between upload and download speeds. While the difference between 2 Mbps and 3 Mbps of download speed may be significant when downloading massive numbers of audio or video files, upload speed -- the speed to which a computer can send data -- is far less important with respect to those applications. In fact, many broadband connections do not even offer upload speeds as fast as 3 Mbps.
The Effects of Speed
The speed of your connection affects more than simply which applications work properly. Using a low-speed Internet connection can also result in slower or different results. For basic downloads, the difference between 2 Mbps and 3 Mbps is as simple as the ratio between those two speeds; the 3 Mbps connection downloads files 50 percent faster. For streaming video services such as Hulu or Netflix, using a lower -- but still sufficient -- speed causes the service to output a lower-resolution picture.
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