Fast internet is non-negotiable these days, but have you ever thought about how those fast downloads, video calls, and streaming capabilities happen? It’s a matter of bandwidth vs. speed.
Bandwidth is how much data can be transferred at a given point. Speed is how fast a particular task can complete or the maximum rate you can transmit data. Think of it like this: Your data is like cars on the road. At 3:00 a.m., cars move at the same speed on a two-lane road and a superhighway because there just aren’t that many out there. Fast forward to morning rush hour, and the superhighway moves much faster thanks to its ten-lane spread while the two-lane road crawls to a stop.
So the time it takes to complete an action is more than just internet speed. When you combine bandwidth and speed, you have your internet throughput or the amount of data that makes it to its final destination. Here’s what you need to know.
Does faster internet speed mean more bandwidth?
The short answer is no. In fact, the opposite is true. Bandwidth doesn’t depend on outside factors such as speed or latency, and it will always be the maximum amount of data that can transfer at a given time.
Speed depends a lot on something known as latency or the delay between initiating and completing an action. Even though we think of data as purely virtual, data signals do move through connection points just like we would move through our homes. The further two connection points are, the longer data transfer takes and the greater the latency. The bigger the data packet, the greater the potential latency as well if you don’t have the bandwidth to support it.
Most operations take a fraction of a millisecond, so we may not perceive the delay with our normal human senses. When you increase the amount of data moving, the number of users using the same “highway,” and the distance, you’ll notice those dreaded delays.
Is Mbps speed or bandwidth?
Mbps stands for “megabits per second” and measures speed. Bandwidth uses bits per second (bps) or hertz (Hz). Speed factors depend on three different things: upload speed, download speed, and latency.
A single bit is the smallest unit of binary data, those 1’s and 0’s we’re so familiar with in traditional coding. One million of these bits combine to form a megabit. Essentially, one megabit means one million points of data per second.
Don’t get this confused with megabytes or MBps. A byte is eight megabits, so one MBps equals eight Mbps. Just remember that megabyte uses a capital “B” and contains more bits than the lowercase Mbps. From there, bits continue to add up. 1000 Mbps is equal to one gigabit (Gbps).
What are Ways to Increase Internet Bandwidth?
If you aren’t sure your high-speed internet is actually high-speed, you can conduct a quick speed test to see what your typical internet connection delivers. Speed tests such as fast.com from Netflix can help determine your next steps. Broadband internet should deliver at least 25 Mbps download speeds and 3 Mbps upload speeds.
If your speeds are the problem, there are a few options. Aside from switching internet plans or even changing internet service providers, there are some other ways to maximize your bandwidth. You can:
- Limit the number of devices connected to your network. If it’s movie time or you’re trying to download something, you might ask others to pause downloads or other bandwidth-intensive activities on their personal devices.
- Turn off the Wifi and use a wired modem connection to reduce the number of devices taxing the network.
- Consider a service that eliminates throttling. Some internet services will throttle your bandwidth during peak usage times, after you’ve used a certain amount (such as at the end of your billing cycle), or when you visit certain websites. A VPN disguises your IP address and encrypts traffic so that your ISP limits your speed because of your activity.
If your internet speeds were acceptable during your tests, you might have a problem with your router or the device itself. You could:
- Clear your device cache, free up some storage, or run a malware program to ensure the best device speed. Also, update your devices regularly to ensure consistent security and performance.
- Invest in a dual bandwidth wireless router that communicates over 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.
- Move your wireless router to a different location to minimize interference or reboot it to help reconnect. Also, make sure you’ve updated your router’s firmware. You could also replace it altogether.
How do I choose the right internet bandwidth?
A basic formula for calculating your bandwidth needs is:
(total bandwidth requirements for all software applications) x (total number of users).
This formula is especially helpful if you aren’t sure about your overall bandwidth needs or if you run a business that relies on the internet to complete important business tasks.
However, using this basic formula requires looking up how much bandwidth your typical applications use. You could also estimate whether you’re a low-bandwidth (think activities like email or word pressing or high-bandwidth (think activities like gaming or streaming) user and combine that with the number of devices on your home network—phones, connected gaming systems, tablets, and computers.
Getting the most from your network
Network speed and network bandwidth together help determine how easy it is to perform the tasks you need to over the internet. The number of bits your connection can move from one place to another, the apps you plan to use and how many users will use them, and even the type of connection you have (wireless? Ethernet?) can determine whether your favorite show will begin buffering or start right up.
Luckily, there are ways to maximize your internet connection. If nothing else, you can change your settings, your ISP, or your actions to improve performance and ensure that you have the bandwidth and speed to get the best performance from your internet.