Bandwidth is a generic term in the world of computing and networking. In fact, it’s used so often that it’s easy to forget that some people don’t really understand what it means.
A quick Google search for “what is bandwidth” will find two different definitions in the dictionary, neither of which are correct. This article explains what bandwidth is, how it is measured, and how much you need for various tasks.
What is the bandwidth?
Throughput is defined as the maximum amount of data that can be transferred over a specified connection within a specified period of time.
This definition is most commonly used to refer to the download and upload speed provided by an Internet Service Provider or ISP. However, it can refer to any type of connection, including Ethernet, USB, HDMI, and others.
For example, Ethernet is broken down into different cable categories: 3, 5, 5e, 6, and 6a most often. Below is a list of cable categories and its maximum theoretical bandwidth.
- Cat3: 10 megabits per second
- Cat5: 100 megabits per second
- Cat5e: 1000 megabits per second
- Cat6 : 10 gigabits per second
- Cat6a: 10 gigabits per second
It’s important to note that bandwidth is not related to speed . This refers to the capacity of data, in particular from one point (or node) on the network to another. If you want to measure the data transfer rate, you will need to check the network latency (often called ping).
How is the bandwidth measured?
Throughput is measured by how many bits per second are transmitted over the network. However, in order to understand this, you must first understand what a bit is.
A bit is the most basic unit of information in a computer. The term is an abbreviated form of a binary digit; in other words, 1 or 0. You may also know the word “byte”. If you combine eight bits, you get one byte.
With advances in computing and networking technology, the number of bits transmitted over the network has increased dramatically. At the dawn of networking (and more recently, in the late 90s – early 2000s), bandwidth could be measured as thousands of bits per second or kilobits.
Nowadays, throughput is most often measured in millions of bits per second or megabits. If you live in an area with a higher connection speed, you might even see gigabit connections, or billions of bits per second.
Think of the joint as a piece of pipe. Only a certain amount of water can pass through this pipe at any given time, and once you reach the maximum amount of water, it will no longer be possible to fit more water into the pipe. You will need a larger pipe. This is the same concept as increasing bandwidth through more advanced connection methods such as fiber optic lines.
However, fiber optic (or fiber optic) connections don’t actually use a larger diameter, but a better way to transfer data. The original copper wires transmitted data through electrical impulses. Fiber optic connections transmit data using pulses of light.
As for your ISP, you can pay for a 100 Mbps connection, but only get 75 Mbps. Your plan refers to the maximum amount of bandwidth available to you, but may vary based on time of day, temperature, weather conditions, etc.
You will probably see a lower speed at 6:00 pm when there are more people at home than at 3:00 am when most people are asleep (and therefore overall internet usage is lower).
How much bandwidth do you need?
Bandwidth requirements vary greatly from person to person. Someone streaming live content like gameplay or instructional videos will need much more bandwidth than someone who only browses Facebook after work.
To determine how much bandwidth you need, break your Internet usage habits.
- Do you play a lot of online games?
- Do you stream a lot of video content?
- Do you transfer large files regularly?
If you answered â€œyesâ€ to any of the above questions, then your bandwidth requirements are slightly above average. Fortunately, knowing your current bandwidth is easy. Ookla is one of the leading speed testing companies. A quick visit to their site will give you information on current latency, download and upload speeds.
Note. Depending on the type of Wi-Fi card in your laptop or PC, the speed may be slower on Wi-Fi than on a wired connection such as Ethernet. The above results are for a laptop connected via Wi-Fi, while a desktop computer with a regular Ethernet connection sees 5x the speed.
According to a 2018 NCTA report, the U.S. average download speed is 93.98 megabits per second, nearly double the global average download speed of 46.25 megabits per second.
However, average speed may not be available at this time due to geographic location. In many rural areas, only affordable ISPs provide a maximum download speed of 3 megabits per second.
To stream Netflix, you’ll need download speeds somewhere between 5 Mbps for HD video and 25 Mbps for 4K resolution. If you want to stream video games on Twitch, you will need a download speed of at least 3 Mbps, but the higher you can achieve, the better the quality of your stream will be.
Remember that 10 download speeds are roughly 1/10 of your download speeds, so 3 Mbps will most likely have download speeds of 30 Mbps or more.
If you only want to watch Facebook videos or listen to music from time to time, your bandwidth requirements are much lower. However, higher bandwidth improves the Internet experience.
If you feel frustrated that the time it takes to perform any activity on the network may mean that you need more bandwidth than you currently have. If so, check with your local ISP and see what options are available to you.