Bandwidth vs speed: what’s the difference?

Internet providers frequently use the terms “bandwidth” and “speed” interchangeably. In fact, there is a subtle difference between them.

  • Bandwidth: the maximum amount of data that can be transmitted over an Internet connection, as measured in Megabits per second (Mbps).
  • Speed: the rate at which data can be downloaded (or uploaded) to a given device using that Internet connection, also measured in Megabits per second.

Bandwidth vs Speed: The Plumbing Metaphor

Think of it this way: data is traveling over the Internet cable like water in a pipe. Bandwidth is the width of that pipe — essentially, the maximum volume of water (data) that can pass through at once. Speed, meanwhile, is the amount of Megabits per second that can be downloaded by a given device using your home network. Speed is more accurately called “throughput,” meaning the rate at which data is “put through” to your laptop/phone/etc.

Bandwidth vs Speed: The Highway Metaphor

Another common way of describing the difference between bandwidth and speed is the “highway metaphor.” Essentially, you can imagine bandwidth as the number of lanes on the highway, and speed as the speed limit on each lane in the highway. Just like a highway, there’s a point at which the amount of cars will cause a traffic jam or slowdown due to congestion. However, using only one lane doesn’t increase the maximum speed — it just means that car (data packet) doesn’t have as much competition in the journey from point A to point B.

Top 20 Fastest Cities in America

1. New York 415.4 MBPS 61 Providers
2. Alexandria 193.8 MBPS 22 Providers
3. Spring 182.3 MBPS 27 Providers
4. Austin 163 MBPS 49 Providers
5. Nashville 158.9 MBPS 27 Providers
6. Raleigh 155.3 MBPS 20 Providers
7. Hialeah 152.4 MBPS 15 Providers
8. Tulsa 151.7 MBPS 32 Providers
9. Fort Lauderdale 148.8 MBPS 24 Providers
10. Silver Spring 148.1 MBPS 23 Providers
11. Littleton 145.3 MBPS 27 Providers
12. San Antonio 145.3 MBPS 46 Providers
13. Baton Rouge 144.9 MBPS 21 Providers
14. Miami 144.4 MBPS 31 Providers
15. Pittsburgh 140.5 MBPS 27 Providers
16. Hollywood 139.9 MBPS 18 Providers
17. San Francisco 138.2 MBPS 41 Providers
18. Oklahoma City 136.9 MBPS 37 Providers
19. Washington 134.4 MBPS 38 Providers
20. Baltimore 133.8 MBPS 23 Providers

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Bandwidth Calculator

  • What Does Mbps Mean?

    Megabits per second (Mbps) is the most common measurement of consumer-grade Internet connections. It’s not important to understand what a “bit” is, so long as you’re familiar with the range of speeds on the market.

    Internet plans can be anywhere from 1 Mbps all the way up 1,000 Mbps or more. Anything above 25 Mbps is considered usable for modern applications. Speeds below 200 Mbps can be challenging for a large household. Use the tool above to calculate what speed range you should be looking for when shopping for Internet service.

  • What Is Latency and Ping?

    Latency and ping refers to the “lag” on your connection. When you visit a website, all the data you see has to travel from a remote server to your computer. The amount of time it takes the request for that data to leave your home, reach the server, and start returning data is called latency.

    Latency: the “Long Distance Call” Metaphor

    You can think of latency as the issue you get on a long-distance phone call. Sometimes, you’ll hear your voice echoing a second after you speak, or accidentally talk over somebody due to lag in hearing their voice. “Latency” on an Internet connection is the same phenomenon as “lag” on a long distance phone call, just with data rather than voices.

  • How much bandwidth is enough?

    The amount of speed or bandwidth you need will vary widely depending on the size of your household, number of users, intended activities, and etc. The best way to find out exactly how much bandwidth you need to subscribe to is to enter your household details into the bandwidth calculator tool at the top of this page.