Interpreting Broadband Data Speeds

How fast is your Internet service? Is it fast enough? Are you getting the most from the money that you spend on your service each month? These are all simple questions asked by millions of consumers around the world. The answers, however, are slightly less simple because they are very subjective. Each Internet user will have completely different needs and expectations when it comes to how fast they want and expect their data speeds to be. The senior citizen, for instance, who only uses the Internet to check her email and occasionally read the news, will need far slower speeds than the computer whiz who streams movies, plays games, and utilizes video chat all at the same time. So how exactly do you understand the speeds that you find during your Internet research and how do you interpret the numbers into something you can actually use?

To understand broadband data speeds, it is first important to understand data. Data is broken down into parts that correspond to how large or small a file is. The smallest usable form of data is the byte. 1000 bytes is equal to one kilobyte (kB); 1000kB is equal to 1 megabyte (MB); 1000MB is equal to 1 gigabyte (GB); and 1000GB is equal to 1 terabyte (TB). To give you an idea of how each size relates to a file you are probably used to dealing with, a word document is usually a few kB; a picture file is usually a few MB; a full-length movie would be about 1GB; and the descriptions of the entire hard drive of most new computers is about 1TB.

As if it werent confusing enough to learn all of the standard terminology when talking about file sizes, broadband Internet providers will usually give their speeds in a totally different form of measurement: the bit. 1000 bits is equal to 1 kilobit (kb), and 1000 kb is equal to 1 megabit (mb). You will notice when you see data speeds advertised by Internet providers, it is usually given in the abbreviation “mbps.” Contrary to popular belief, this is not a measurement of “megabytes per second,” but rather a measurement of “megabits per second.” There are 8 megabits in every megabyte, but very few people shopping for broadband Internet realize there is any difference. If you ever hear your neighbor bragging that his new Internet service gives him speeds of “18 megabytes per second,” you can be almost sure that he has no idea what he is talking about. Instead, you can bet that his new service gives him 18 megabits per second, which (when divided by 8) is the same as about 2.25 megabytes.

So what exactly does all this talk of bits and bytes mean when you are trying to determine if your Internet speeds are fast enough? Luckily, once you understand the basics of data, you can begin to understand how your data speed actually affects your computing experience. You should realize first that every speed you will ever be quoted by an Internet service provider (ISP) is the download speed (as opposed to the much slower upload speed). This measure lets you know how quickly your computer will be able to fetch data from a source on the web. Now imagine you are trying to choose between three data speed options quoted by your ISP: 10mbps (megabits per second), 15mbps, and 20mbps. If you want to download a file that is 200MB, you will first want to convert your mpbs into MBps (megabytes per second). When divided by 8, your respective options are 1.25MBps, 1.88MBps, and 2.5MBps. Therefore, to download your 200MB file would take about 2.7 minutes on the 10mbps service, 1.8 minutes on the 15mbps services, and 1.3 minutes on the 20mbps service. Remember, however, that each of these given speeds is really the top speed your Internet service is capable of reaching, so your actual results will be slightly slower.

Now that you understand the technicalities behind all of the numbers, you can reach an informed decision when it comes to your data speeds. If you arent in the mood to calculate your options, however, a general rule would be that if you are a light data user who mostly just uses the Internet for email, browsing, and occasional downloading, you should be fine with speeds between 8mbps and 12mbps. If you are more of a casual user who streams video and audio as well as doing everything the light user does, you will want speeds somewhere between 13mbps and 18mbps. Heavier users who video chat or play video games that require an Internet connection will likely want to find speeds between 19mbps and 25mbps.

Despite all the confusing numbers, when it comes down to it, your necessary data speed really all depends on your habits. Start off guessing a little low and increase as needed until you find the optimum speed for your level of computing.

Sam Jones the author often tells his friends and family that they can find more infos from uSwitch.com.  His brother recently got a great uSwitch tesco broadband deal that is worth a look as well, all from the same comparison site.

 

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