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What is bandwidth?

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Most of us have probably heard the term bandwidth being mentioned in relation to the internet, but how many of us actually know what it means? 

When comparing internet providers, understanding the terminology used will ensure you get the right product for your hard earned cash. Bandwidth and internet speeds are often, incorrectly used interchangeably and can therefore be confused for one another. 

In simple terms, bandwidth is the amount of data you can send and receive, while internet speed is how quickly each bit of data can be uploaded or downloaded. The higher your bandwidth capacity the faster your data is transferred. 

Think about a hose pipe, if it is narrow then the amount of water and the speed of the flow is limited. In comparison, a wider hose pipe can carry more water and therefore the speed at which it is released is also increased. Using that analogy and applying it to bandwidth – the higher the bandwidth, the greater the capacity and therefore the quicker the data moves.

How is bandwidth measured?

When information is sent or received across an internet connection it is broken down into smaller segments referred to as ‘bits’ of data. The capacity of a connection refers to how many of these bits it can send and receive within a given unit of time, in this case, seconds.   

Bandwidth is most commonly expressed as megabits per second (Mbps), not to be confused with megabytes. In today’s market, ultrafast gigabit broadband connections have become mainstream which is important when it comes to schools and businesses and their ever changing needs during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In this instance the measure is gigabit per second (Gbps), often shortened to ‘gig’. One Gbps is equal to 1000 Mbps, which gives you an idea of just how fast it is!

bandwidth capacity speed for technology

How much bandwidth do you need?

This completely depends on the amount of users you have and how many devices are being used at any one time. 

Bandwidth tends to be a factor when it comes to streaming online content, whether it’s video or audio. Video calling or conferencing can also be impacted and even basic browsing can be painfully slow due to the restricted capacity of the network, so these are all things you need to consider. 

For example, if you have 100 employees and each one has a computer or laptop, VoIP desk phone, video conferencing is commonplace as is large data backups, then you may want to consider a symmetric service offering 1Gbps such as leased line or dark fibre. 

Whereas, if you’re a small business and only use the internet modestly for emails, browsing the web and sending and receiving small amounts of data, then you shouldn’t need much bandwidth and an asymmetric service such as ADSL, FTTC or FTTP will suffice.

Can you increase bandwidth?

This is completely dependent on the type of connection you have. If you currently have an ADSL or FTTC connection unfortunately the bandwidth you currently have is probably as good as it’s going to get. However, if you’re lucky enough to have FTTP then scalable options should be available, with most providers offering an upgrade path if you require a faster connection. 

The even better news is that when you are talking about leased lines or dark fibre, the possibilities and capabilities are pretty much endless. If you have one of these connections then you have the benefit of receiving up to 10Gbps with options available to increase the bandwidth to suit your needs. Even more impressive, with dark fibre you can change your speed at practically any time. So if you want to temporarily speed up your line to accommodate extra users for a day it’s made possible with the flexibility of a dark fibre service.

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