Getting To Know Bandwidth: What It is and Why It is Important
Since the popularization of the internet, “bandwidth” is a very common term to use in the talks about network and connectivity. However, the term bandwidth has a number of technical meanings we think we fully understand but actually don’t. This article is a simplified and more comprehensible form of the surprisingly complicated details associated with bandwidth.
What is Bandwidth?
Simply put, the term bandwidth refers to the volume of data that can be transferred over an internet connection, along a communication channel, in a measured amount of time. A higher bandwidth means that more data can flow per second, so it has a positive effect on the speed of data transfer as data is likely to arrive more quickly. Although bandwidth is officially measured as a frequency (Hz), it’s more generally calculated in bits per second (bps), so a bandwidth of 10 Mbps means that 10 megabits of data can be transferred at once every second.
Although the terms bandwidth and speed are technically different, we often use them interchangeably. One of the causes of the confusion is, probably, the ads by ISPs which often refer to greater speeds when they truly mean bandwidth, mixing the two different ideas into one.
Essentially, speed refers to the rate at which data can be transmitted, while the definition of bandwidth is the capacity for that speed. Let’s use the water metaphor to explain the difference. Speed is how quickly water can be pushed through a pipe, while bandwidth is how much water can be moved through the pipe over a set time frame. If the pipe has a wide opening, more water can flow at a faster rate than if the pipe was narrower.
How is Bandwidth Related to Latency?
Bandwidth is the amount of information sent per second, while latency refers to the amount of time it takes for data to travel from its origin server to its requester. These are two different things, but when it comes to network and connectivity, both are related. Along with throughput (how much data actually makes it to its destination), bandwidth and latency impact network performance. The relationship between these factors may not be direct, but their interaction determines speed. If a network is affected by high latency connections, no amount of bandwidth is going to help it transfer data. Similarly, reducing latency with edge computing deployments may not deliver improved performance if bandwidth and throughput remain low. By working to improve all of these factors, companies can deliver better, faster services to their customers.
Why is a Higher Bandwidth Better?
Bandwidth isn’t an unlimited resource. In common deployment purposes, such as for home and business requirements, bandwidth is typically limited mostly due to physical restrictions of the network device, such as router or modem and cabling or wireless frequencies being used. Nonetheless, having a higher bandwidth means that we will be able to achieve a higher data transfer rate which in turn leads to shorter download and upload times, especially for large files, resulting in less frustration and greater customer satisfaction. A higher bandwidth also supports multiple concurrent applications and online sessions; for example, at a house, at the same time, the father could be downloading a large PowerPoint file for work, the mother watching a YouTube video, the daughter talking to her friends through Zoom, and the son is playing an online game. A higher bandwidth ensures faster and better website and application performance although there are more than one services which are accessed at once.
As the demand for digital services keeps growing along with technological advances, the possibility of multiple services and devices being accessed at the same time with the same connection also increases. To keep up, a higher bandwidth is needed, and a higher bandwidth needs to be supported by capable hardware, specifically the switches that route the traffic throughout a network, which are offered by high capacity data centers.