Network Bandwidth; Things We Need To Know

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What is a network bandwidth?

Network bandwidth is the maximum possible amount of data that a network link can transmit in a certain span of time. It is expressed in bits per second-kilobits, megabits, and gigabits. It is also closely related to throughput which is the actual amount of data that is being transmitted and speed which is how fast the data is transmitted.

How does network bandwidth work?

Higher bandwidth gives you a better user experience and lower bandwidth might give you some wait time, especially when transferring huge files and loading of webpages with photos and videos. Why? Let us use the concept of the freeway where the bandwidth is the freeway and the cars are the data that are being transmitted. We have 10Mbps(megabits) bandwidth so that is 10 lanes on the freeway and 10MB(megabytes) of data which will be 10 cars. Because we have a higher bandwidth which is 10 lanes, it means it can accommodate all the cars at the same time so they will arrive at their destination quicker. Now let’s assume that we have 1Mbps which will equate to 1 lane, and still 10MB of data which will be 10 cars. What will happen to the cars? They would have to arrive one by one so it will take longer. That is the same when we are transmitting data. We can see this when we are trying to view an image and it’s loading bit by bit.

We also have to understand that there are times that having higher bandwidth will not necessarily benefit you. One example is if there are very few users connecting to the network and are only using it for regular browsing then having a high bandwidth is not practical since there is really no need for it. Like the freeway that has 10 lanes, you only have 2 cars so only two lanes are being utilized and the other 8 lanes are already an expense.

There are also some factors that affect our bandwidth

  • Our subscription. The bandwidth that we are subscribed to with our Internet Service Providers(ISP) is always labeled as “up to” so if we got 50Mbps, that is actually up to 50Mbps if we read it again which means 50Mbps is the maximum. Therefore, it means there will be times that we will not get the whole 50Mbps and expect it to be always in our bandwidth tests. Aside from this, there is also what we call ISP throttling where our internet service provider intentionally limits our bandwidth for several reasons such as network congestion and paid prioritization or burst speed where they will give us a higher transfer rate(sometimes even higher than what we subscribed to) for a short period of time then bring it down to a slower speed.

  • The number of users. If there are a lot of devices that are connected to the same network then that means they will be sharing the bandwidth. If we have 50Mbps and there are 10 users connected, then we can assume that per user will have 5Mbps available to be used on average. This will depend though on what each user is doing since regular browsing uses smaller bandwidth as compared to someone who is streaming and downloading.

  • Our devices. There are times that we think our bandwidth is to blame for poor user experience so we upgrade to a higher one, only to find out that our equipment such as our routers or access points cannot support such bandwidth. If our subscribed plan from the ISP is 300Mbps but our router is only capable of 100Mbps then we are not maximizing what we are paying for. Other times, older devices are also not capable of supporting higher bandwidths.

Why is it important?

We don’t need to be tech-savvy before we learn about bandwidth. A little knowledge about it can help us in;

  • Choosing our plan subscriptions. We’ll know if we need to get an expensive higher bandwidth or if the lower but cheaper one is good enough. This again depends on why we need it, and the number of users.

  • Choosing our devices. When we purchase new devices, we will be mindful to check if the device is compatible with our current bandwidth. This is important for devices that are linked to each other like an access point and a router. We can also choose some devices which have bandwidth control in case we need it.

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