In today’s connected society, nearly everyone spends time on the Internet. But what is Internet bandwidth? Fewer people are familiar with this term and what it means for the quality of their internet service. Bandwidth is the data speed supported by a network connection. The definition comes from the field of engineering where bandwidth represents the distance between the highest and lowest signals on a communication channel (band). Greater bandwidth indicates a greater capacity; however, it doesn’t necessarily indicate higher performance.


Factors That Determine Your Actual Internet Speed

If you’ve ever purchased a wireless-G router, chances are you’ve seen boxes which advertise speeds of 54 Mbit/s. Despite this, the average Internet connection doesn’t come close to putting this speed to the full potential because many Internet service providers simply don’t offer 50 Mbit/s speeds to the general public. Typically, 15 Mbit/s is what most internet companies will provide. Of course, depending on your location, quality of the infrastructure, and number of people on the network, your overall internet speed will vary greatly.

On the other hand, if you are on a cellular connection, the Internet speed will vary depending on if you are using a 3G vs. a 4G connection and also the quality of the signal. 3G has a max speed of 1-4 Mb/s while 4G is on average 8-12 Mb/s.

How to Keep Optimum Performance

Ultimately, when using the Internet, your speeds will be different from the Internet bandwidth promised by your Internet service provider. Fortunately, you can maintain a reasonable Internet speed by following a few common-sense measures such as avoiding illegal file sharing, using a residential rather than cellular Internet connection for heavy business activity, and also making sure that the speeds you’re consistently getting match the demand you need.

Although the question of “what is Internet bandwidth?” covers a vast field, to keep things simple, remember that Internet speed is what matters since bandwidth only tells you the potential peak speed. If you want to measure your Internet performance, you can use an internet speed test to evaluate if your Internet service provider is providing you with the service you pay for, regardless of if you are on a mobile or desktop device.

Photo credit: Flickr/cogdogblog

Paul Williams
Paul Williams

Paul Williams brings a wide range of experiences to his writing. He worked extensively in technology, as a software engineer, technical writer, and now a technology writer. Known as the leader of one of the top American Spacerock bands, his forward-looking music continues to be heard all over the world.