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TECH WEEK: Bandwidth Basics - What Are Mbps and How Many Do I Need?

By Connected Nation
It's #techweek in America, and Connected Nation is kicking it off by bringing you back to the basics by helping all of us understand what exactly bandwidth is all about and what your speed means.

For starters, all online activities require bandwidth, which is measured in megabits per second (Mbps). Internet service providers (ISPs) generally charge more for additional bandwidth, but is the extra speed worth the extra cost? Getting the right connection can save money without sacrificing a quality online experience, and knowing bandwidth basics can help you make an informed decision.

What is a bit and what is a byte?
A bit is the smallest measure of data, equating to only a one or zero, and one megabit is one million bits. A byte, by contrast, is generally used to measure data storage, such as the file size of a video, document, or image. A byte equates to eight bits and can display any one character, such as ‘X,’ ‘y,’ or ‘#.’ Both are basic digital building blocks that create and express everything a device has and does.

What is the average internet speed in America?
According to an FCC report, average actual bandwidth across major ISPs in America was about 31 Mbps in September, 2014. Speedtestâ, a website which measures real-time internet speed, reported an average of 50 Mbps in 2016 in the U.S. These findings are consistent with growth in previous years and development expected from recent technological upgrades.

Why do I get lower speeds than advertised?
Bandwidth is not static and it is affected by geography, the type of connection you have, and the competing traffic in your area. Other online devices, firewalls or routers, malware, software issues, or faulty cabling can also cause slow-downs.

How much bandwidth do I really need?
The FCC updated its standards in 2015 to classify broadband as a 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed. While few activities require this kind of connection, the bandwidth requirements for each activity add up, so simultaneous use across one or multiple devices requires more bandwidth.

Netflix recommends 1.5 Mbps connection for regular viewing and 5.0 Mbps for HD. Skype requires as little as 0.5 Mbps for one-on-one video calling and 1.5 Mbps for HD video calling. Web browsing and email access require less than 1 Mbps. Basically, the type of connection you need depends on the number of users at your home or business and what you are doing online.

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About the Author: Sam Stemler is a blogger, copywriter, and novelist. She writes for non-profit groups, marketing agencies, web hosting businesses, small businesses, and more across the U.S. Sam enjoys telling real stories for businesses through social media, blogs, and news stories, and telling exciting fantasy and science fiction stories in her novels. To contact Sam, email her at