WHAT IS 'Bandwidth'

Bandwidth, in computer networking terms, is the data transfer capacity of a network. 

Bandwidth may also be used colloquially to indicate a person’s capacity for tasks or deep thoughts at a point in time.


Bandwidth is a measure of how much data a network can transfer. Internet providers typically denote bandwidth speeds in millions of bits per second, or megabits (Mbps), and billions of bits per second, or gigabits (Gbps). Generally speaking, the higher the bandwidth, the faster the speed with which a computer downloads information from the Internet whether users view emails or watch streamed movies.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband Internet speeds as connections with a bandwidth of 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. Providers state the bandwidth measurement to customers, but that may not be the actual bandwidth speed a customer gets. The connection could have a bottleneck where one network is limited by the lowest speed going to several computers at once. More computers connected to the same bandwidth speed slow down the bandwidth for everyone who shares the same connection.


An instant messaging conversation may use 1,000 bits, or 1 kilobit, per second in bandwidth. A voice-over conversation, in which someone's voice transmits through computer connections, typically uses 56 kilobits per second (Kbps). Standard-definition video takes 1 Mbps, while HDX video quality, one of the highest standards on video-sharing services, takes more than 7 Mbps for downloading. Any computer can measure the amount of bandwidth it actually receives at any given time. Special websites, or the Internet provider, can calculate the bandwidth by sending a file through the connection and then waiting for the information to return.


In 2015, the amount of information transmitted through the Internet around the world hit an estimated 966 exabytes, or 966 quintillion bytes. This was the equivalent of downloading every movie made in the history of the world every four minutes. Put another way, streaming movies accounted for downloading 3 billion DVDs per month, and 1 million minutes of video crossed networks every second. Experts predicted the top 1 percent of households needed 1 terabyte, or 1 trillion bytes, of data downloaded per month in 2015, which was four time the amount from 2010.

South Korea had the fastest bandwidth speeds across the country at more than 22 Mbps in 2014. Hong Kong was second with 16.8 Mbps countrywide, while Japan was third with 15.2 Mbps. The United States ranked 16th in the world with an average of 11.1 Mbps. In 2014, Virginia had the highest bandwidth speed with 17.7 Mbps, followed closely by Delaware with 16.4 Mbps. The District of Columbia was third with 14.4 Mbps. The top countries in the world, and the top states, continue to increase their bandwidths as more users and more devices connect to networks.

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