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What Is Bandwidth? Definition, Meaning, and Details

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The term bandwidth has several technical meanings, but since the internet’s widespread use, it has generally referred to the amount of information that a transmission medium (such as an internet connection) can handle per unit of time.

A higher bandwidth internet connection can move a given amount of data (say, a video file) much faster than a lower bandwidth internet connection.

Bandwidth is commonly expressed in bits per second, such as 60 Mbps or 60 Mb/s, to describe a data transfer rate of 60 million bits (megabits) per second.

Why Understanding Bandwidth Is Important

It’s easy to dismiss bandwidth as a technical term that doesn’t really apply to you unless you enjoy tinkering with technology or configuring internet hardware. In reality, understanding what bandwidth is and how it applies to your own network can assist you in fine-tuning your setup to get a faster internet connection when you need it.

If your internet connection is suddenly slower than usual, you may be wondering about bandwidth. Perhaps you suspect that you should purchase more bandwidth or that you are not getting what you pay for.

Or perhaps you’re about to purchase a gaming console or video streaming service and need to know whether you can do so without negatively impacting the rest of your network. These two activities are by far the biggest bandwidth hogs for most people.

What is your available bandwidth? (And how much do you require?)

bandwidth speed test

See How to Test Your Internet Speed for information on determining how much bandwidth you have available. Internet speed test websites are frequently, but not always, the best way to accomplish this.

The amount of bandwidth you require is determined by what you intend to do with your internet connection. More is generally better, subject to your budget constraints.

In general, if you only plan on using Facebook and the occasional video, a low-end high-speed plan will suffice.

Depending on what you’re doing with the internet, you may be able to get an official bandwidth recommendation so you know exactly what you’ll need to use that service optimally. For example, if your internet is currently working well but you want to add a movie streaming service to the mix, look on their website for the minimum bandwidth they recommend for uninterrupted streaming.

If you have a few TVs that will be streaming Netflix and a slew of computers, tablets, and other devices that might be doing who knows what, I’d recommend getting as much as you can afford. You will not be sorry.

Bandwidth Is Similar to Plumbing

Plumbing is an excellent analogy for bandwidth… seriously!

Data is equivalent to available bandwidth as water is to pipe size.

In other words, as bandwidth increases, so does the amount of data that can flow through in a given amount of time, just as pipe diameter increases, so does the amount of water that can flow through in a given amount of time.

Assume you’re watching a movie while someone else is playing an online multiplayer video game and a couple of others on your network are downloading files or watching online videos on their phones. Everyone is likely to feel that things are sluggish, if not constantly starting and stopping. This is related to bandwidth.

To return to the plumbing analogy, assuming the water pipe to a home (the bandwidth) remains the same size, as the home’s faucets and showers are turned on (data downloads to the devices), the water pressure at each point (the perceived “speed” at each device) will decrease—again, because the home only has so much water (bandwidth) available (your network).

In other words, the bandwidth is a fixed amount determined by what you pay for. While one person may be able to stream a high-definition video without any lag, as more download requests are added to the network, each will receive only a portion of the total capacity.

For example, if a speed test shows that my download speed is 7.85 Mbps, it means that in one second, with no interruptions or other bandwidth-hogging applications, I could download a 7.85 megabit (or 0.98 megabyte) file. With this bandwidth, I could download about 60 MB of information in one minute, or 3,528 MB in an hour, which is equivalent to a 3.5 GB file…pretty close to a full-length, DVD-quality movie.

So, while I could theoretically download a 3.5 GB video file in an hour, if someone else on my network attempted to download a similar file at the same time, the download would now take two hours to complete because, once again, the network only allows x amount of data to be downloaded at any given time, so it must now allow the other download to use some of that bandwidth as well.

Technically, the network would now see 3.5 GB + 3.5 GB, totaling 7 GB of data to be downloaded. Because bandwidth capacity is a level you pay your ISP for, the same concept applies: a 7.85 Mbps network will now take two hours to download the 7 GB file, just as it would take one hour to download half that amount.

The Distinction Between Mbps and MBps

It is critical to recognize that bandwidth can be expressed in any unit (bytes, kilobytes, megabytes, gigabits, etc.). Your Internet service provider may use one term, a testing service another, and a video streaming service yet another. If you want to avoid paying for too much internet service or, worse, ordering too little for what you want to do with it, you’ll need to understand how these terms are related and how to convert between them.

15 MBs, for example, is not the same as 15 Mbs (note the lowercase b). The first is 15 megabytes, and the second is 15 megabits. Because there are 8 bits in a byte, these two values differ by a factor of 8.

If these two bandwidth readings were written in megabytes (MB), they would be 15 and 1.875, respectively (because 15/8 is 1.875). However, in megabits (Mb), the first is 120 Mbs (15×8 is 120) and the second is 15 Mbps.

Bandwidth Control

Some software allows you to limit the amount of bandwidth that the program is allowed to use, which is extremely useful if you still want the program to function but it does not need to run at full speed. This deliberate bandwidth limitation is commonly referred to as bandwidth control.

Some download managers, such as Free Download Manager, as well as numerous online backup services, cloud storage services, torrenting programmers, and routers, support bandwidth control. These are all services and programmes that deal with massive amounts of bandwidth, so having options to limit their access makes sense

As an example, suppose you want to download a 10 GB file. Instead of letting it download for hours and consume all available bandwidth, you could use a download manager and instruct the programme to limit the download to only 10% of the available bandwidth.

This would, of course, significantly increase the total download time, but it would also free up significantly more bandwidth for other time-sensitive activities such as live video streams.

Bandwidth throttling is similar to bandwidth control. This is also a deliberate bandwidth control that internet service providers may use to limit certain types of traffic (such as Netflix streaming or file sharing) or to limit all traffic during specific times of the day in order to reduce congestion.

More than just the amount of bandwidth available determines network performance. There are also factors such as latency, jitter, and packet loss that can contribute to less-than-desirable network performance. Other factors that can contribute to slow internet performance include outdated hardware, viruses, browser add-ons, and a weak Wi-Fi connection.

Frequently Asked Question

Can I see what and how much bandwidth is being used?

There are numerous methods for monitoring network traffic. You can, for example, use your router or a third-party application. Your ISP’s website may also offer bandwidth monitoring.

Netflix consumes how much bandwidth per hour?

Netflix provides four data usage options: Low: up to 0.3 GB per hour; Medium: up to 0.7 GB per hour; High: 1-7 GB per hour (depending on definition quality); and Auto: automatically adjusts based on internet connection speed. In a web browser, navigate to your account page > Profile & Parental Controls > Profile > Playback Settings > Change.

When will my bandwidth be reset?

Bandwidth is reset once a month on the date specified in the Site Settings Tab of your Site Manager’s page.

My monthly bandwidth did not reset. What should I do?

Always clear your cache and cookies to ensure you’re seeing the most recent content on your site. Please allow a 12-hour grace period for your meter to reset, as we may perform unscheduled maintenance from time to time, which may interfere with your automatic reset.

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