Understanding Internet Bandwidth: Kbps to Mbps to Gbps Explained

Kbps to Mbps to Gbps. If you’ve shopped for the internet recently, you are likely very familiar with their use. These are the units of measurement we use to determine the speed of and power of internet bandwidth. 

But not everyone is technically savvy, so these terms might as well be Greek. You aren’t alone, because most people shopping for the internet just want to be sure it fits their needs. 

Below, we will explore more about internet bandwidth and translate these terms into something you can use. So, if you want to find out what Kbps to Mbps to Gbps really means, read on below. 

What is bandwidth?

When shopping for the internet, the first thing you probably hear is bandwidth. Bandwidth is the total amount of data, measured in bits per second (bps). Bandwidth determines how much data can move on your network. 

To help with understanding, we recommend visualizing a road. The road is your actual network bandwidth (like the wire your internet goes through) and the information you send back and forth (the data) are the cars. 

Each road is a little different. You can have anything from a two-lane road to a ten-lane interstate. These roads all have speed limits and can only handle some traffic before things get backed up. 

If you’ve ever been in rush hour traffic, you know what backed up feels like. Your bandwidth is no different, as it can only handle a certain level of data before things start backing up. For example, imagine if you try to put 50 cars down a two-lane road. A wider road, such as a four lane, would be more efficient. You can say the same about 50 Mbps internet vs 100 Mbps internet, which is double the bandwidth. 

Now, imagine that the speed limit is 35 mph on these roads, which is the limit at which how fast the cars (data) can travel. This is how much internet you pay for, meaning it can never exceed 35 mph. 

If the road has too many cars, people will travel less than the speed limit. However, this is not a sign of the area’s potential bandwidth, only its current bandwidth. Where traffic is manageable, speed (bandwidth) is not an issue. 

Typically, bandwidth is only reduced in cases where a network cannot handle the data coming through it. Otherwise, bandwidth does not affect speed in cases where you are working within your means. 

How to measure bandwidth 

Since bandwidth and speed are nearly interchangeable concepts, we measure bandwidth the same way in which we measure internet speed: 

  • Kilobits per second (Kbps)
  • Megabits per second (Mbps)
  • Gigabits per second (Gbps)
  • Terabits per second (Tbps)

When tech savvy people use these “bps” measurements, they might call it the “bitrate.” So, having a higher bitrate means that you have more bandwidth. 

Despite this, internet service providers seem to use the terms bandwidth and speed interchangeably. However, there are some slight differences between the two concepts. 

How does internet speed differ from bandwidth? 

As mentioned, bandwidth and speed, although measured in the same way, are not the same. Bandwidth, unless exceeded, has no impact on speed. So it’s best to keep these two differences in mind:

  • Bandwidth determines how much data you can upload/download from your device
  • Internet speed determines how fast you can download/upload data 

Using the previous example of cars entering the city, connection speed refers to the velocity of your cars. So long as you don’t exceed the road’s capacity, these cars (data) are free to travel as fast as they would like. Speed limits, however, dictate the maximum speed they can travel (based on your internet plan).

Now, imagine there are events going on in town. These events are comparable to the number of devices and users on your network. So, the more major events going on downtown, the more the roads will struggle to handle incoming traffic. The number of devices can impact the bandwidth on your network. 

How do download speeds, upload speeds, and bandwidth relate? 

Internet service providers also often only advertise the download speeds. This is because most customers are more concerned with how fast they take incoming content. If you send files, have work from home internet, or participate in zoom meetings, upload speeds should be a concern to you. 

Download speed refers to how quickly data travels from web servers to your device (from out of the city into it). Upload speed refers to the speed data goes from your device to the servers (from inside the city out). 

Not sure how your internet service stacks up for either? You can do a quick internet speed test to have the answer in a few seconds.

Regardless of whether users upload or download, bandwidth is under the same limitations. If more users are streaming on your network, bandwidth limitations can also impact these speeds. An overburdened bandwidth is very noticeable on streaming media, as you’ll see both video and audio glitches. 

Measuring speed: Kbps to Mbps to Gbps explained

Internet speed, like bandwidth, comes in bits-per-second (bps). The bigger the number, the faster the connection. Unlike bandwidth, speed refers to the rate of data traveling through your network during a ‌period. With bps, that period is a second.

How to convert Kbps to Mbps to Gbps to Tbps

To convert between bits per second, you need to know the base words:

  • Kilo is one thousand
  • Mega is one million 
  • Giga is one billion
  • Tera is one trillion  

For example, if you were to convert 1000 Kbps to Mbps, it would be equal to 1 Mbps. Below, you’ll find more details connecting these terms:

A terabit is equal to…

One thousand gigabits

One million megabits 

One billion kilobits

A gigabit is equal to…

One thousand megabits

One million kilobits 

A megabit is equal to…

One thousand kilobits 

What is the difference between a byte and a bit?  

One piece of jargon that gets most people confused is the difference between bits and bytes. To be clear, they represent the same thing—data—but they do not mean the same thing.

In simplest terms, a byte is eight bits. 

Bytes measure hard drive storage space, file sizes, data limits, and hard drives. To distinguish between the two, you’ll find bytes have an uppercase "B," as in KB, MB, GB, and TB. ‌Bits use a lowercase "b," as in Kbps, Mbps, Gbps, and Mbps.

Keep these concepts separate to avoid confusion. Rates of storage convert at different levels than internet speed rates. 

Calculating file download speeds from bits to bytes

Let's say you are scrolling through your Google Photos account, and you decide you want to download an album onto your computer so that you can do some editing and save them on a backup drive. Before downloading, Google tells you that the album is 2.3 GB in size.

To figure out how quickly you will ‌download this, you need first to convert this number from megabytes to megabits.

In an ideal world, we could transfer this to Mbps and get a clean rate. However, storage rates convert from 1 GB to 1024 MB. So in order to find out how fast you will download file size, you can use these steps: 

  1. If the file size is in GB, multiply it by 1024. 
  2. If the file size is in MB, multiply it by 0.125
  3. Divide this number by your connection speed (again, you’ll have to find the answer to “what is my internet speed?”)

Using our example above, all we need to do is multiply 2.3 by 1,024, which gives us 2,355.2 megabits. Then, we divide this by our current connection speed. For the sake of this example, let's say it is 84 Mbps.

Based on our math, it will take about 28 seconds to download this photo album.

Internet speeds may vary, but this method gives you a good general idea of how fast you can get files. If downloading large files with limited bandwidth, you can use this tool to determine when you can start using the internet for other purposes. 

How much bandwidth and speed do you need?

Now that you have a better idea of what internet speed and bandwidth are, how they're measured, and how they impact your internet experience, it's time to take a look at how to figure out what type of connection you need in your home.

A great way to determine the level of bandwidth you need is through our Internet Speed Wizard. The Wizard asks you questions about your activity, the number of devices, and the number of users on your network. Using this tool, you can determine a good minimum speed to look out for. 

Then, you can use our list of the fastest internet providers to get a shortlist of some of the top-rated companies in the US.

It’s also important to understand different factors affecting your internet speed. You can find them in the graphic below:

How to improve your connection speed and bandwidth issues

After testing your connection speed with a free service, you might notice it is slower than it should be. In those cases, you can improve your speed and bandwidth through these tips: 

Connect via an ethernet cable

Ethernet cables provide more stable and consistent connections. Wireless signals will more likely suffer from crosstalk, which is when different internet connections interfere with each other. An ethernet cable is less likely to be affected by this problem. Even if you install fiber-optic internet, cables will still work. 

Move closer to the router

Your internet connection weakens as you travel away from the browser. 

If you notice you're experiencing slower connection in rooms further away from it, then consider moving closer to see if that impacts network speed. You might also decide to move the router to a more convenient spot in your home. 

Check who else is using the internet

Internet management apps and router admin pages let you see who is using the internet. If you find multiple streaming devices or gaming sessions, it might overburden your network. By controlling who uses your internet service - and when - you can reduce your headaches. 

Add another router to your home network

If you have a large home, you can add another router. A second router will provide more coverage to your house, but it doesn’t increase your potential bandwidth. 

However, a router also doesn’t take up that much bandwidth, you should keep in mind the devices connected to it. 

Replace your current equipment

When was the last time you replaced your router? With so many internet service providers requiring equipment rental fees, you might bring your own router. However, older routers don’t meet modern performance standards. So in this case, you might upgrade your router to meet your download and upload speed requirements. 

Try a different browser

If your web browser seems to lag and slow down your computer, you might not be working with the fastest internet browser. Try on another browser known for speed and performance. Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge are two excellent options. 

Check for viruses and malware 

Some viruses and malware focus on interruption-based services. These frustrate you and limit your ability to manage the computer. By scanning your computer for malware using antivirus software, you can potentially speed your computer. 

Check if you have data caps

Data caps are download limitations set by your internet service provider to limit your use of the internet. If you’ve gone over those data caps, internet providers will throttle your use. Data throttling is when providers purposefully limit the speed you can receive or send data at. To avoid this, check if you can upgrade your internet plan or switch providers to someone with unlimited data. 

Kbps to Mbps to Gbps - Wrap up 

Knowing that your megabits per second can refer to speed and bandwidth is confusing. However, always remember that bandwidth is capacity while speed is the rate. When you go over the capacity, your rate will slow. 

If your internet provider isn’t meeting your need for speed (or bandwidth), use our tools to find an internet provider near you that can meet those needs. 

InternetAdvisor Team

We are passionate about aggregating large, accurate data sets and providing it all to our users in an easy-to-use format. Simply put, shopping is easier for the consumer when he/she knows all available options. We are not beholden to any single provider and therefore are dedicated to transparency and giving you unbiased information on all providers.

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