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What is Internet Bandwidth? Meaning and Measurement

What is Internet Bandwidth? Meaning and Measurement

By Author: Team Agora In Business, Developer

Networks, the backbone of our digital world, may be a mystery to many end users. But developers know they are essential to an application’s productivity.

Users benefit from the smooth, fast, and reliable delivery of real-time communication. It impacts the quality of their multimedia services, such as online video communication or streaming. It also impacts the essential digital tools in their work, such as email or file sharing.

Developers are responsible for delivering these user experiences with internet bandwidth by minimizing latency, loss, and jitter. Understanding how internet bandwidth is measured and implemented is a key to that delivery.

Some key concepts must be considered when discussing bandwidth:

  • The available bandwidth is subject to fluctuating and unpredictable changes over time.
  • Bandwidth is not evenly distributed between transmission and reception in most situations.
  • The goal of VoIP and WebRTC bandwidth estimation is to get as close to the actual bandwidth as feasible, as this will determine the quality of the media that can be transmitted.
  • We calculate the maximum bitrate we can send or receive based on our best estimate.

This guide will cover what internet bandwidth is and how it relates to real-time communication.

What is Internet Bandwidth?

So, what is bandwidth? In simple words, it is the rate at which information may travel over a network from one location to another. The standard procedure calls for converting bandwidth from its bitrate form into a rate expressed in bits per second (bps).

Bandwidth, or a connection’s transmission capacity, is a crucial metric for evaluating a network’s or an internet service provider’s reliability and speed.

There are a few distinct methods for determining network bandwidth requirements. You can measure data flow in several ways, including the maximum possible throughput, the average throughput, and the throughput that is considered satisfactory.

Some other areas of technology rely heavily on the concept of bandwidth. The bandpass filter is a frequency measurement used in signal processing to characterize the range of frequencies present in transmission, such as a radio signal.

A good analogy for bandwidth would be the flow of water via a conduit. Continuing with the same water analogy, bandwidth is the rate at which information may pass over a connection. We may use gallons per minute as a unit of measurement instead of bits per second. Maximum bandwidth is the volume of water that might theoretically flow through the pipe at any given time. In contrast, actual bandwidth equals the volume of water flowing through the pipe.

Historically, bps stood for “bits per second” as a unit of bandwidth measurement. In modern networks, however, metric prefixes like “megabits per second,” “gigabits per second,” and “terabits per second” have become the norm for expressing much larger data transfer rates.

Bytes per second is another common representation of bandwidth. It is customary to use a capital B to represent this. For instance, the notation for 10 MB/s (or 10 MBps) indicates a transfer rate of 10 megabytes per second.

How Does Bandwidth Work?

There is a direct correlation between the bandwidth of a connection and the amount of data that can be sent and received simultaneously. Bandwidth, conceptually speaking, is comparable to the amount of fluid that can pass through a given conduit.

Larger diameter pipes allow greater volumes of water to be transported simultaneously. The same concept applies to bandwidth. The more data that can be transferred across a connection per second, the higher its capacity.

Increasing a connection’s bandwidth also increases the price. As a result, the cost of a Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) connection with a throughput of 1 Gbps will be higher than that of a connection with a throughput of 250 Mbps.

Comparison of Bandwidth and Transfer Rate

People tend to incorrectly equate bandwidth with speed. Internet service provider (ISP) marketing may contribute to the misunderstanding by referring to increased speeds when they actually mean bandwidth.

Bandwidth is defined as the ability to transfer a certain amount of data at a given time, whereas speed is the rate at which data may be transmitted. Once again, referring to a water pipe, speed is the rate at which water can be forced through the pipe, while bandwidth is the amount of water that can be pushed through the pipe in a given amount of time.

Why is Bandwidth Important?

A certain amount of storage space is available in a typical deployment environment like a house or business. The router, modem, cable, or wireless frequency being used could all play a role in this. However, there are situations where a network administrator or internet/wide area network (WAN) provider deliberately limits the bandwidth available to users.

As a result of multiple users accessing the internet using the same connection, bandwidth must be shared. Some devices use a lot of data, including 4K streaming televisions. Most webinars consume only a fraction of a video streaming service’s bandwidth.

You can restrict the amount of bandwidth an application is permitted to consume, which is helpful if you need the app to run but don’t necessarily need it to do so at full speed. Bandwidth control refers to the process of artificially reducing available data transfer rates.

Bandwidth management is a feature available in several download managers, as well as numerous cloud storage, torrenting, online back up, and routing platforms. All of these are examples of applications or algorithms that routinely consume large quantities of bandwidth; hence, controls to restrict their use are warranted.

Let’s use the download of a 10 GB file as an illustration. If you use a download manager, you can tell the software to use only 10 percent of the available bandwidth, so the download won’t take hours and won’t eat up all your data.

While this would undoubtedly increase the total download time, it would also free up far more bandwidth for more pressing uses, such as live video feeds.

Bandwidth throttling is a method that works similarly to bandwidth restriction. This is another form of intentional bandwidth restriction used by certain ISPs to slow down specific kinds of traffic (like media streaming or file sharing) or to slow down all traffic at specific times of the day in an effort to ease congestion.

The effectiveness of a network depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is the amount of accessible bandwidth. Network performance issues can have several causes, including but not limited to delay, jitter, and packet loss. Internet slowdowns can also be caused by antiquated gear, malware, browser extensions, and a shaky wireless connection.

How to Measure Internet Bandwidth

The amount of data sent and received over a given time period is typically used as a proxy for internet bandwidth. This data is then reported as a rate in seconds.

Alternatively, you can transfer a file or multiple files of known sizes and time how long it takes to transfer to get an idea of your bandwidth. The result is translated to bits per second (bps) by dividing the total size of the transferred files by the total time it took to transfer them. This is the standard approach used by most speed tests to determine how quickly a user’s computer can access the internet.

While total available internet bandwidth cannot be measured, measured bandwidth can be defined in a variety of ways:

Theoretical maximum

The largest possible maximum data rate achievable under ideal conditions. In practice, reaching the maximal transfer rate predicted by theory is impossible. The theoretical maximum is typically just used as a benchmark against which to evaluate the actual performance of a connection.

Effective bandwidth

Bandwidth efficiency defines the biggest amount of data that can be transmitted without interruption at a certain time. As a rule, it is far smaller than the theoretical maximum. This bandwidth is often recommended as the most efficient. This is important for determining how much data can be sent and received.


How much data can be transferred in a given amount of time is called its throughput. The throughput, measured in bytes per second, can be compared to the effective bandwidth and the theoretical maximum to evaluate the connection’s performance. What we mean by “throughput” here is the typical or average data transfer rate, which helps gauge the speed of a connection.


The term “goodput” is used to quantify the amount of valuable data sent, as opposed to noise or unnecessary data like packet retransmissions or protocol overhead. Divide the file size by the transfer time to get the goodput.

Total transfer method

The total transfer method tallies all data transfers over a specified time frame, usually one month. As bandwidth usage is the most common basis for billing.

95th percentile method

Carriers frequently employ the 95th percentile approach to shield bandwidth measurements from extreme consumption periods. The plan is to track bandwidth consumption in real-time and cut off the top 5 percent of users. For billing purposes, it’s helpful to know how much bandwidth is typically used in a given time frame.

In practice, bandwidth constantly shifts as usage and connections change. Therefore, the results of a single bandwidth measurement reveal little about actual bandwidth consumption. When trying to find averages or trends, it can be helpful to look at multiple metrics.

How to Calculate Internet Bandwidth

Measuring bandwidth is done in bits per second (bps). However, today’s networks can handle far more traffic. They are typically expressed in megabits per second (Mbps) or gigabits per second (Gbps).

In addition, a connection’s bandwidth can be symmetrical if its upload and download speeds are equal or asymmetrical if one is significantly slower than the other. The ability to upload data is typically lower than the ability to download in asymmetrical connections.

You need to figure out how much internet bandwidth is required to run all the applications on your networks and then test those calculations. Determine the total number of potential users accessing the network at once, then multiply that number by the bandwidth needs of each application to get an idea of how much capacity you will need.

Use this calculation to determine your bandwidth requirements: Total Application Throughput = (Application Throughput) x (Number of Concurrent Users).

Be aware that the output from this may be too large to fit within the bandwidth provided by your ISP.

This estimate might help you determine how many access points will be required to meet the bandwidth demands in a given area.

Some bandwidth estimations have become more complicated due to technological advancements; one factor is the type of network link used. Optical fiber, which employs a variety of light wavelengths and time-division multiplexing, has a higher bandwidth than copper Ethernet alternatives because it can transfer more data at once.

A bandwidth test can determine an effective bandwidth or the maximum consistent data transfer rate a link can deliver across a specific transport medium. The speed of a connection is measured during a bandwidth test by timing how long it takes a predetermined file to go from its source to its destination and back again.

Once total network bandwidth usage has been determined, you must identify the location of critical applications and data and determine the average bandwidth requirements for each user and session.

Here are four measures you may take to calculate the bandwidth needs of an uplink network or internet broadband connection:

  • Sort out which programs will be used.
  • Discover how much data transfer each program needs.
  • Multiply the system requirements of each program by the number of concurrent users they anticipate.
  • Calculate the total bandwidth required by all applications.

The same formula may be used to calculate WAN or internet bandwidth requirements for public or private clouds. However, the bandwidth available on a LAN or wireless LAN is often far more than that of a WAN or DIA connection. Therefore, it is essential to assess bandwidth requirements precisely and to track link consumption over time. Network administrators can tell if a WAN/DIA link has adequate bandwidth by monitoring how much data is sent daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.

Poor performance of applications and services is a direct result of limited network capacity.

One aspect that influences network performance is the connection’s maximum capacity. The negative effects of packet loss, latency, and jitter can reduce network throughput, making even a high-capacity link seem to have lower available bandwidth.

So, what is bandwidth wifi maximum capacity? The best way to understand this is the bandwidth available over the various links that make up a typical end-to-end network path. Therefore, the connection with the lowest bandwidth is typically referred to as the bottleneck since it might restrict the capacity of all connections along the way.

Multiple physical lines are aggregated into a single virtual one in many enterprise-grade networks. For instance, the effective throughput capacity of a switch uplink can be as high as 4 Gbps if it employs four aggregated 1 Gbps connections. However, if two of those lines failed, the maximum throughput would be reduced to 2 Gbps.

Internet bandwidth limitations can be adjusted through software. By distributing data across several WAN and DIA links instead of just one, software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) technology frees up extra bandwidth for users. SD-WAN implementations frequently combine a more expensive dedicated transport link, such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), with a more affordable broadband internet or cellular connection.

Choose the Best Real-Time Engagement Solution for Your Product with Agora

Agora’s technology is built to automatically make adjustments for scenarios like low bandwidth for end users. For example, suppose a user has a poor internet connection on an older device. In that case, Agora’s technology automatically adjusts the video quality to keep it as smooth as possible. As a result, jitter and packet loss can be avoided, ensuring a high-quality experience for the user.

Overcome bandwidth bottlenecks with Agora. Choosing Agora means that you can tap into our full suite of audio and video real-time communication solutions.

Sign up for free today to begin building conversation, community, and connection into your app!