What is broadband? According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), broadband is any Internet connection with a minimum download data transmission speed of 768 Kilobits per second (Kbps). Unfortunately, not all broadband connections are equal, and before signing up for a plan with an Internet Service Provider (ISP), you really need to understand the terms used to describe data speeds. Its also helpful to understand what the data speeds mean in real life examples.

Data transmission speeds are normally defined as either bits per second or bytes per second. There are 8 bits in a byte, so 8,000 bits would be the same as 1,000 bytes. The amount of bits or bytes is normally written in terms such as kbps, Kbps, kBps, or KBps. Notice the lowercase and uppercase letters in the abbreviations. If the first letter is lowercase, it means the notation is decimal. If the first letter is uppercase, it means the notation is binary. The difference between decimal and binary is that a kilobit in decimal is 1,000 bits, whereas a kilobit in binary is 1024 bits. If the second letter is lowercase, it indicates bits. If the second letter is uppercase, it indicates bytes.

Example 1: 1 kpbs is 1,000 bits per second.

Example 2: 1 Kbps is 1,024 bits per second.

Example 3: 1 kBps is 1,000 bytes per second.

Example 4: 1 KBps is 1,024 bytes per second.

Other data transmission speeds you might encounter are mega (M) and giga (G) with mega indicating 1,000,000 and giga indicating 1,000,000,000. When you research an ISP, you may find data transmission speeds similar to 6 mBps. Using the information above, you know the lowercase letter m means the notation stands for decimal million. The uppercase B indicates it is in bytes. So you know that the ISPs data transmission speed is 6,000,000 bytes per second. Since discussions on most data speeds are in bits, you can convert the bytes to bits by multiplying by 8. So your converted data transmission speed is 48,000,000 bits per second, and that speed is suitable for most users.

Now that you understand the notation for data transmission speeds, what does that mean in the real world? Different online activities require different transmission speeds. Some examples are:

Email and Web Browsing A data transmission speed of less than 1.5 Mbps is suitable for the typical email and web browsing needs of the typical user.

Telecommuting, Streaming Music, or Standard Definition Video These types of activities will require data transmission speeds between 1.5 Mbps and 3 Mbps.

Online Gaming If you are a heavy online gamer, you will need an ISP that provides between 6 Mbps and 10 Mbps.

Now that you know the meaning of the notations for data transmission speeds and the data transmission needs of typical online activities, you are prepared to research and select an ISP that is suitable for you. So shop around and dont be confused when an ISPs advertisement throws out data transmission speeds. You now know what those numbers mean and how they relate to real world activities.

Sam, the author, used a speed test and was shocked to find out what his actual internet speeds were.

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