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Speed Calculator

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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

City Avg. Download Speed No. of Providers
1. New York 199.8 MBPS 59 Providers
2. Spring 138.5 MBPS 29 Providers
3. Alexandria 127.6 MBPS 25 Providers
4. Austin 116.3 MBPS 43 Providers
5. Fort Lauderdale 109.9 MBPS 25 Providers
6. Littleton 109.7 MBPS 30 Providers
7. Miami 107.9 MBPS 34 Providers
8. Silver Spring 107.0 MBPS 26 Providers
9. Hialeah 106.8 MBPS 17 Providers
10. Tulsa 106.7 MBPS 30 Providers
11. Raleigh 106.2 MBPS 22 Providers
12. San Antonio 102.0 MBPS 48 Providers
13. Saint Petersburg 101.9 MBPS 15 Providers
14. Staten Island 101.6 MBPS 20 Providers
15. Hollywood 100.2 MBPS 20 Providers
16. Pittsburgh 99.6 MBPS 32 Providers
17. Nashville 98.8 MBPS 25 Providers
18. Pompano Beach 97.2 MBPS 22 Providers
19. San Francisco 96.4 MBPS 40 Providers
20. Virginia Beach 95.9 MBPS 20 Providers

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.