What is bandwidth? (Network bandwidth)

Network bandwidth quantifies the highest data-carrying potential of a wired or wireless connection within a specified time frame. It is usually expressed in bits, kilobits, megabits, or gigabits per second, symbolizing data transmission capacity. It’s important to note that bandwidth refers to data transfer rate and should not be confused with network speed, a common misconception.

The definition of bandwidth

Bandwidth or network bandwidth refers to the maximum volume of data or information that can be transmitted over your internet connection in a set period of time.

When you look up bandwidth, you’ll see a lot of water and plumbing analogies. This is because it’s a good image to visualize exactly what ‘bandwidth’ is. If you think of bandwidth as the size of your water pipe, this will help you understand how it relates to internet speed. The size of your pipe tells you the maximum amount of water that could flow through your pipe.

How is bandwidth measured?

Bandwidth is typically measured using bitrates and bits per second (bps). That being said, different Internet Service Providers (ISPs) might use varying measurements such as megabits (Mbps) or gigabits (Gbps).

What does bandwidth tell you?

Your bandwidth indicates how much information or data you’re able to upload and receive in a set period of time. A larger bandwidth can transfer more data, so a higher bandwidth will translate to better download and upload rates.

Bear in mind, however, that even if your ISP has promised you a certain bandwidth, in reality you may not actually be experiencing it. This is especially the case if you’ve got multiple devices connected to the same network.

Bandwith vs Speed

Though often used interchangeably and closely related, in actual fact bandwidth and speed are not the same thing. Speed tells you the rate at which data can be transmitted, whilst bandwidth indicates how much data your connection can transmit at that rate.

Bandwith vs Latency

Think of latency as a ‘delay’ or ‘lag’. We’ve all experienced it. Latency is the delay between data being transmitted to you and you receiving it. Bandwith refers only to the amount of data.

Bandwith vs Throughput

Throughput is the quantitative measurement of how much data is actually delivered to you in a given period of time. By contrast, bandwidth refers to the maximum amount of data that could theoretically be delivered.

How much bandwidth do you need?

This depends on your needs and typical activities as well as how many devices are connected up. Your maximum bandwidth will also be determined by your budget. To find out your current bandwidth, all you need to do is run a quick speed test.

How do I increase my bandwidth?

If your internet connection is not cutting it, you may want to consider increasing your bandwidth.

Upgrade your internet plan

If you’re looking to increase your bandwidth, contact your internet provider and see if you can upgrade to a higher Mbps contract. If they don’t offer a plan that fits your needs, consider changing to an alternative provider.

Reboot your router regularly

As with many things, simply turning your router off and then on again can be a good quick fix. Another consideration is where you place your router. Try as far as possible to keep it in an open space without too many obstructions or blocks between your device and your router.

Use an ethernet cable

Connecting directly to your router via an Ethernet cable is a surefire way to maximize your bandwidth.

Minimize the number of devices connected

If you’re unable to upgrade your plan or use an ethernet cable, another method is to disconnect any devices you don’t need from your internet.

Clean up your device

If your device is dated or unable to properly process the data being transmitted to it, this might be the root cause of your slow internet. Cleaning out your computer, organizing the storage, and consistently protecting it against viruses are standard practices for maintaining your bandwidth.

What is bandwidth throttling?

Bandwidth throttling is where your internet service provider limits or restricts your bandwidth. This can happen if your activities are frequently ‘bandwidth-heavy’. Many users who are savvy to bandwidth throttling opt to use a VPN in order to go undetected since ISPs can’t track your activities.

Why is bandwidth important?

Though you may not necessarily need to know the intricate technological details of how bandwidth works and what it is, in real-life terms, you bandwidth impacts your overall experience using the internet. For example, it will directly influence how fast a web page loads or how much lag you experience when streaming a video. For this reason, it’s advisable to keep on top of your bandwidth and know exactly what you’re talking about. This way, you can prevent frustration, ensure you’re able to use the internet smoothly, and make necessary adjustments to your internet usage.

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