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Tech Q&A: How music streaming may slow internet use

Steve Alexander, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Science & Technology News

Q: We use an Amazon Echo Dot device to play streaming music throughout the day, and often have a second unit streaming music on a different floor. Are these devices slowing down my internet service from Comcast?

Bob Oldowski, Bloomington

A: Whether Amazon's streaming music service affects your internet usage depends on what internet speed you buy from Comcast and how fast your Wi-Fi network is.

An Amazon music stream requires 256,000 bits per second of internet capacity, or about a quarter of a megabit. If you run two streams constantly, that's half a megabit. If you have a 10-megabit download speed (the slowest Comcast offers), you would expect that two simultaneous music streams would use up only about one-20th of your internet capacity.

But in many homes, the walls and floors are thick enough to partly block Wi-Fi radio signals, which effectively reduces your internet speed for devices that are a distance from your wireless router. For example, walls made of brick, marble or solid wood can reduce Wi-Fi internet speed by as much as 50 percent. That could reduce your 10-megabit internet speed to 5 megabits, and the two Amazon music streams would be using 10 percent of it.

While using 10 percent of your internet capacity might not seem like a big deal, it could be if you also view streaming video on your TV. Good quality high-definition TV video requires about 5 megabits of internet capacity -- more than you may have available if two music streams are running and your Wi-Fi network is also handling downloads for a computer or smartphone.

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To find out how much internet capacity you have available, take a laptop computer to each room of your house and run the internet speed test at tinyurl.com/p7zgr.

Do this while running the two Amazon music streams, then with those streams turned off.

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Jim Kirchner, New Hope

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