Mbps, Gbps, MB, and GB: What Do They All Mean?

Know the difference and understand what it means for your internet.

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Last Updated: Jan 3, 2024
Image of a man with a nebulous cloud of internet things above his head
It’s essential to know the differences between Mbps, Gbps, MB, and GB when describing your internet connection.
  • Megabits per second (Mbps) and gigabits per second (Gbps) are measurements of internet speed.
  • Megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB) are measurements of file sizes, digital storage space, and data usage.
  • Gigabit internet is perfect for households with multiple devices, remote workers, and people who use a lot of bandwidth on a regular basis.

Every internet service provider (ISP) will describe its plans using terms like Mbps, Gbps, MB, and GB, but you may not be familiar with some of these abbreviations. What does it mean when your internet speed is 300 Mbps? How big is 1 GB? Whether this is the first time you’ve seen these terms or you need a quick refresher, we put together this guide to help you learn all about them.

Bits vs. Bytes: Size Matters

Diagram showing how bits and bytes work
It’s common for people to mistake bits and bytes.

The most important thing to understand is the difference between a bit and a byte. A bit is a unit of data that’s measured in binary, represented by either a 1 or 0. Eight bits make up one byte. Knowing when to use bits or bytes depends on what you’re measuring. When it comes to talking about the internet, we typically use bits to measure internet speeds and bytes to measure data size.

Mbps vs. Gbps: It’s All About Speed

A graphic illustration of a Wi-Fi symbol with data traveling through fiber wires
How much speed you get will shape your internet experience. (Image: Shutterstock)

Mbps stands for “megabits per second,” and Gbps stands for “gigabits per second.” These are data transfer rates, meaning they measure the speed at which data moves between your device(s) and your router. One gigabit is significantly bigger than a megabit — specifically, 1 gigabit is equal to 1,000 megabits. Note that the speeds are measured in megabits and gigabits instead of megabytes and gigabytes.

Download Speeds vs. Upload Speeds

Download speeds measure how fast information is sent to your device, whereas upload speeds measure how fast your device sends information. We recommend large households invest in an internet plan that offers high download speeds to accommodate the wide range and number of devices used. For most internet types, download speeds are always faster than upload speeds. The exception is fiber internet, which offers symmetrical speeds — in other words, download and upload speeds are the same.

MB vs. GB: Storage Capacities

Illustration of the cloud storage network with different places of storage and security
Whether you’re downloading or uploading videos and photos, you’ve seen those file sizes measured in MB or GB. (Image: Shutterstock)

MB stands for “megabytes,” and GB stands for “gigabytes.” These measurements represent file sizes or data storage. If an internet plan has a data cap, it is measured in MB or GB. Most ISPs today will offer their internet services with unlimited data, but there are a few that still include data caps with their plans, some as high as 1.2 TB (terabytes). To put it into context, there are 1,024 megabytes in 1 gigabyte, and there are 1,024 gigabytes in 1 terabyte.

Do You Need Gigabit Internet?

Gigabit internet allows you to do almost anything, but is it necessary for all households? According to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), you only need internet speeds up to 25 Mbps to perform tasks like sending emails and surfing the web. However, you may need faster internet for tasks that require more bandwidth, especially if you have lots of devices and users in your household.

Do You Stream Television and Movies?

Simple internet plans are powerful enough to let you watch your favorite shows and movies in SD (standard definition) or HD (high definition). However, if you stream often (especially in 4K) or you have multiple people in your household streaming at the same time, you may want to consider gigabit internet. Fast internet speeds can greatly reduce the chances of buffering during streaming.

Do You Have a Large Household of Users?

Small households can probably get away with basic internet plans — even more so if they’re light internet users. Large households, on the other hand, may want to purchase or upgrade to gigabit internet to power each device, including devices that run simultaneously.

Do You Upload Content for Work or Hobbies?

A strong internet connection isn’t strictly required for livestreaming or working from home, especially for smaller households. However, if your household members need to perform large data transfers, participate in video calls, or conduct other bandwidth-heavy tasks at the same time, gigabit internet will help keep everyone online without connection issues.

What Internet Providers Offer Gigabit Internet?

Most fiber and cable internet providers offer gigabit internet for their customers. Gigabit internet plans start with advertised speeds at 940 Mbps or 1 Gbps. The right ISP for you will depend on a number of factors, including availability, number of devices, and bandwidth usage. Here are several options if you’re looking to purchase gigabit internet for your household:

Internet provider Download speeds (up to) Starting price (for gigabit) Technology
AT&T 5 Gbps $80 per month Fiber
Brightspeed 940 Mbps $79 per month Fiber
CenturyLink 940 Mbps $75 per month Fiber
Spectrum 1 Gbps $89.99 per month Cable
Verizon Fios 2 Gbps $89.99 per month Fiber
Xfinity 10 Gbps $80 per month Fiber or cable