What is Bandwidth?

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Bandwidth is a term you might come across when comparing internet speed tiers. Each time you use the internet, bandwidth will impact how fast your connection feels. Pricing is important, but it’s only part of the equation. It’s a good idea to take bandwidth into account when you choose your internet provider, too. Asking the right questions up front will ensure your new network fits your needs and your budget.

So, what is bandwidth?

In terms of internet speed, bandwidth describes how much data your internet connection can transmit in a certain amount of time. Usually, that amount of time is one second. You’ll likely see bandwidth expressed in megabits per second (Mbps).

Why does bandwidth matter?

Without enough bandwidth, you’ll notice internet speed issues. Multitasking will be difficult, with pages loading slowly or failing to load. Your connection will slow noticeably when many users or devices are online. Streaming media like music and movies will pause often to buffer. Video chats and voice over IP calls will lag, sound distorted, and even fail. Not what you’d call an ideal internet experience.

Think of internet speed as water flowing through a pipe. Internet bandwidth is the pipeline itself. The size of the pipe determines how much water can flow through at once. If the pipe is too small, you’ll only get a trickle of water (enough to wash your hands, but not enough to shower). But if the pipe is large enough, lots of water can flow through — enough for several people in the house to shower at once without losing water pressure.

In this analogy, data-heavy activities like streaming, multitasking, and online gaming are like showers. You’ll need decent water pressure (internet speed) to enjoy them, while simpler tasks like sending an email need just a trickle.

How much bandwidth do I need?

The amount of internet bandwidth that’s right for you depends on several factors:

  • How many people are in your household?
  • How many web-connected devices will be on your network?
  • Is your web usage heavy (lots of streaming, gaming, and multitasking) or light (mostly emailing)? Do you work from home?

Larger households and power users need more internet bandwidth than small families and occasional users do. Your internet speed can also be affected by factors outside your home. Some types of internet service involve a shared connection, which can slow down at high-usage times of day when many neighbors are online. Consider your needs and different networks’ limitations before you commit to a provider.

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About Author

Chelsea

Chelsea studied English and Sociology at the University of Georgia. Her interests change daily and span from tech to searching for the perfect cookie recipe.

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