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Internet speed explained: how fast do you need?

By Mason Rodney
Public Affairs Coordinator

Internet speeds and access in Canada vary greatly depending on where you live. When selecting an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and service plan, most urban residents have the luxury of shopping around with multiple high-speed internet options. Rural residents, however, are often stuck with only one or two service options that tend to be slower or more costly. Despite this, findings from CIRA’s Internet Performance Test (IPT) data release, published this past summer, demonstrate that rural internet speeds are slowly closing the gap with urban ones. We asked Jeff Buell, Internet Performance Test Program Manager at CIRA, for his take on this: “Overall, both upload and download speeds have been steadily improving coast to coast thanks in part to government investment in broadband networks,” he said, “these investments are essential to strengthening the speed, reliability and resilience of Canada’s internet.”

What we do know, is that despite an increase in investments, many Canadians are still being left behind. Equivalent access to reliable high-speed internet services is just not possible everywhere, so investments need to be informed by reliable quality of service data. CIRA’s Internet Performance Test is used by over 1000 communities and organizations across Canada to map and monitor internet metrics to help decision-makers locate these connectivity gaps. For example, Wellington County used IPT data to first advocate for broadband improvements and then help plan expansion efforts. In 2020, the County partnered with the Southwestern Integrated Fiber Technology (SWIFT) Network and three ISPs to build a hybrid fibre-to-the-home and fixed wireless network reaching approximately 3,085 properties.

“Nationally it’s a good news bad news situation,” continued Buell, who lives in an underserved rural community himself, “when we separate urban and rural test results we’ve received in the last couple of years, there’s positive growth in key indicators. However, many tests we see show that rural Canadians have barely enough internet capacity to support many of the basic applications we use most online today.”


With the sudden increase in the number of people working and learning from home and the proliferation of Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices over the past five years, Canadians are using the internet more for both employment and enjoyment. Access to high-speed internet unlocks a new world of possibilities for individuals as well as businesses. For individuals, fast speeds mean greater access to a better entertainment experience, like the ability to watch 4K content and video chat with friends across the country. For businesses, it enables them to run HD security cameras connected to an off-site server and access remote system support.

Access to high-speed internet has never been more essential for Canadians—but it’s hard to know what internet speeds we truly need. For instance, a family of five will have significantly different requirements than someone who lives alone or has a busy work and social life. Knowing your requirements and usage habits is key to ensuring you have a good online experience. If your requirements don’t match the speeds you have, you may need to upgrade to another service. Of course, this all depends on where you live and if you have options at all.

Knowing what the different speeds mean is helpful for two reasons. First, so we can understand what level of service we need for our own home or business; and second, to recognize and work to address the constraints that those with poor internet performance face. To break this down, we start by outlining Canada’s current broadband targets, the CRTC’s Universal Service Objective (USO).

Established in 2016, the USO set targets for minimum speeds of 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload with an option for unlimited data accessible. Separately, the federal government, through the Universal Broadband Fund, aims to have the USO’s target speeds available to 98% Canadians by the end of 2026. The remaining households are set to have access to the same data speeds by 2030.

Below we provide an outline of recommended minimum internet download and upload speeds:

Task/Device Minimum Speed (Download/Upload) Notes
Email 1/1 Mbps Larger file attachments will impact performance.
Streaming audio (music/podcasts) 2/1 Mbps Upload speed is less important unless you are uploading your own content.
Web Browsing with multiple tabs open 5/1 Mbps Webpages can load other content (ex. ads) even if the page is not actively being used.
Social media (browsing/posting) 5/2 Mbps Many sites compress large files being uploaded, which can reduce the file quality.
Streaming SD video 5/2 Mbps SD content is becoming less popular, and many services compress their videos.
Streaming HD video 10/2 Mbps Upload speed is of minimal importance, and many services compress their videos.
HD video security camera monitoring 10/2 Mbps Minimum speeds needed per network enabled camera (ex. Nest, Ring, Arlo, etc.)
Video calling 10/2 Mbps Some factors may vary these requirements (ex. number of people, camera quality, etc.)
Online gaming 20/2 Mbps Requirements vary greatly – online games will benefit from low latency connectivity.
Streaming 4K video 30/2 Mbps Upload speed is of minimal importance, and many services compress their videos.

*minimum requirements for broadband speeds are subjective. CIRA has researched the subject from a variety of sources, including the FCC, Consumer Reports and CNET.


Help support your internet community!

You can find out almost everything about your internet service by running an Internet Performance Test! Better yet, you can make an impact on the future of the internet in Canada by signing up for an account and scheduling recurring tests (click “Sign In” to get started). Doing so will help contribute to a community of IPT users crowdsourcing to map and monitor the internet nationwide. The data generated by these tests helps inform community advocates, organizations and decision makers so they can make the decisions they need to improve internet services.

In addition to contributing to a wider collective, you also get access to the data you need to self-advocate. If you aren’t getting the speeds you’re paying for, it’s always free to run a test and find out if something is wrong. If you sign up for an account, test results are logged in a downloadable table. The results can be shared with your service provider to identify any possible issues affecting speed and performance. Anyone can help contribute to building a better internet in Canada by running a test and signing up for an IPT account.

You might not be the only one wanting better service in your community, so by testing and generating new IPT data, you have the power to support potential investments in infrastructure for your neighbours and local businesses! Even if you have great internet speeds as-is, check out the interactive map at to explore the speeds where you live⁠—and run a test to see how you stack up. If your internet speeds are very limited, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with a low bandwidth, “mini” version just for you, at Finally, if you’d like to report an area that has absolutely no connectivity at all, you can through the main IPT site—because no one should be left behind.

About the author
Mason Rodney

Mason is the Public Affairs Coordinator in the Community Investment, Policy and Advocacy team at CIRA. He supports CIRA’s government relations, stakeholder outreach and policy research and analysis to help build a trusted internet for all Canadians.