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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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Is DarkLight connectivity best suited to you?

Dark fibre is perfect if you are looking for a potentially limitless, ultrafast connection with complete flexibility and control.

If you fully rely on the internet, a dark fibre connection could be the best option for you.

Is Leased Line connectivity best suited to you?

Leased Lines are best suited to you if you have high bandwidth requirements and need a reliable, uncontended service.

It is ideal for you if you regularly carry out large uploads and downloads, use cloud based services and a VoIP telephone system as well as video conferencing, for everyday communication.

Is GPON connectivity best suited to you?

GPON is a great choice for you if you need gigabit speeds but don’t need them to be symmetrical. It is becoming more widely available across the UK but may not be immediately available to you yet.

Is Rural Fibre connectivity best suited to you?

If you want to make the move to full fibre, but are based in a rural area, this option is for you.

Is FTTP connectivity best suited to you?

If you have a number of users who use cloud-based applications to upload and download data on a daily basis, but don’t transfer large amounts of data, FTTP might be your best option.

Is Gfast connectivity best suited to you?

If your line cannot support a minimum of 100Mbps, this connection is not for you. Gfast must meet the speed as a minimum. 

If your line meets this need, and you’re looking for an ultrafast, consistent and reliable connection without the hassle and upheaval of construction work – this could be a good fit.

It’s worth noting that Gfast is a stop gap to FTTP, and is not a technology that is likely to be around for a long time.

Is FTTC connectivity best suited to you?

If you need more bandwidth but don’t really need a guaranteed speed, FTTC could be for you. It is widely available throughout the UK, making it suitable as a main connection. As this connection provides higher speeds than ADSL, it is also a good option for a back up to a leased line.

As with ADSL, once the PSTN is turned off in 2025/26, FTTC will become virtually obsolete and at the very least you will require FTTP to remain connected.

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Is DSL connectivity best suited to you?

DSL connections offer very limited bandwidth so it might be right for you if you typically use the internet for less data-intensive tasks. If you’re sending emails, browsing the web, downloading very small files and working with small amounts of data – you should be fine with DSL.

It is worth noting connections based on copper wire, like DSL, will be switched off in the UK by Openreach, with a phased approach due to begin at the end of 2025. If you don’t have a fibre connection at the moment, you’ll need to upgrade this as well as move to a VoIP telephone system.

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