The Basics of Measuring Internet Speed

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You just ordered Internet service, and your provider tells you the plan you chose offers speeds of up to 15/7 Mbps. Or 75 Mbps download and 36 Mbps upload. Or 1.5 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up.

If you aren’t sure what any of this means, don’t worry. There is a simple explanation that will make you an Internet speed expert, and you’ll know exactly what you’re able to do online with your current Internet speed.

How is Internet speed measured?

Internet speed is measured in megabits (Mb) per second. It is often abbreviated as “Mbps.” A bit is a binary digit, or a small unit of computerized data. It’s tiny – smaller than a single character you would type in a document or email. So, a megabit is one million bits.

It can be confusing to discern the difference between megabits and megabytes. They are often denoted with a little “b” versus a capital “B,” respectively. A megabyte is composed of about 8 megabits. You’ll usually hear talk of “megabytes” being used to measure hard drive space and RAM memory.

What is Mbps measuring?

To determine an Internet service’s overall speed – and how good it is, there are three aspects you need to look at. 1) Download speeds. 2) Upload speeds. 3) Latency or lag. Your Internet speed should contain the optimal amounts in each of these categories.

Before you can know what’s ideal for these three categories, it’s important to understand what download speeds, upload speeds and latency are.

  1. Download Speed (measured in Mbps)

    Download speed tells you how long it would take to download a particular file. Files are not downloaded all at once. Instead, they come through piece by piece. Therefore, download speeds will vary throughout the download process.

  2. Upload Speed (measured in Mbps)

    Your upload speed is determined by how long it takes to send a copy of a file from your computer to a remote network connection. An example of uploading would be when you put pictures on Facebook or when web developers upload files to their website to make them available to users.

  3. Latency (measured in milliseconds)

    Latency is the length of time, also called “lag,” between when information is sent and when it is received. You can see it on your screen when you wait for a website to load, or when a video on YouTube buffers for a few seconds before it plays. It also affects services like VoIP calls and video chatting on Skype.

Now that you know the definitions related to Mbps you will be better able to determine what your internet speeds are, and what they mean in terms of what you are able to do online.


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This post was written by the Beacon team.

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