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What is internet speed?

Trying to understand internet speed, bandwidth, Mbps and, to be fair, broadband in general, can be really tricky! It can sometimes seem that the topic is filled with jargon, never to be understood – don’t worry. We’ve got it all explained here for you – broken down into bite-sized chunks to help you understand it all.

Firstly, let’s look at internet speed. Despite it sounding like it, this actually has nothing to do with speed – and doesn’t resemble cars travelling at mph. It’s actually referring to your allocated bandwidth and describes the amount of data that can be sent to you. For example, 5Mbps means you can receive 5 megabits per second.

Now we’ll look at what bandwidth is. Imagine a freeway; now picture cars and data travelling at the same speed. To receive more data to your computer at a faster rate, the freeway needs to be wider and have more lanes. So, a 1Mbps connection is equivalent to a 1 lane freeway. If you tried to download an image that was 5Mbps, it would take you 5 seconds to download it.

Therefore, if you had 5Mbps bandwidth, it would take 1 second – because you have 5 lanes on your imaginary freeway.

What’s hugely important to note is that whether your bandwidth has 1Mbps or 5Mbps has no impact on the internet speed. Of course, having a bandwidth of 5Mbps will transfer data much faster than having 1Mbps – all because more data can be sent at the same time.  It is much more efficient but it’s not technically faster.

And finally, another really important factor when it comes to understanding internet jargon is when you see speeds listed in this way – 5/1Mbps. This is informing you that it has a download speed of 5Mbps and an upload speed of 1Mbps.

Now, the reason it’s different is because most internet connections are asymmetric – put nice and simply, the bandwidth is a different size going one way compared to the other. And, since most internet usage is downloading (rather than uploading), the bandwidth for the download speeds is much larger.

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