Wildanet Speed Test Image

Speed, Bandwidth & Data – Let Us Explain

As a company that provides internet access, we talk about speed, bandwidth and data a lot.

It’s easy for us to use these phrases to describe what we do but if you don’t know your MegaBytes from your Megabits, don’t worry – you’re not alone.

So we’ll answer these common questions around the subject:

  • What is internet speed?
  • What is bandwidth?
  • What is a data allowance?
  • What is the difference between upload and download speeds?

What is internet speed?

When you hear the phrase internet speed, this is actually referring to the amount of allocated bandwidth that your internet provider gives you. For example, if you receive 20Mbps (or 20 Megabits per second), this means that technically you could download a 20 Megabit file in 1 second.

(However, it’s important to note that internet communication adds additional data so the file knows where it’s being requested from (your computer) and that the request was completed (you received the whole file))

With most internet providers there will be an allocated amount of bandwidth delivered to a local exchange in a village or area. This amount of bandwidth (or speed) is shared by everyone connected to the local exchange. 

So internet speed is measured in the amount of bandwidth available to you. The more bandwidth you have, the quicker you can receive data.

What is bandwidth?

Bandwidth is the measurement of how much data you can receive per second.

To explain how bandwidth works, it’s best to use an analogy:
Imagine the internet arrives at your house like the water does.

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With a guaranteed 30Mbps connection, 3 devices in the house can comfortably split the bandwidth between them at 10Mbps.

In our example, the water pressure (bandwidth) provided by the water company is set at 30Mbps. If you only turn on one tap in the kitchen (or use one device), you will get the full pressure (30Mbps) to that tap (device) and therefore, you will get your water (data) quicker. 

However, should you then want to simultaneously run the bath (use another device), then you would notice a drop in pressure in the kitchen as the bath would take some of that water pressure away from the kitchen. 

That should be fairly straightforward but obviously, you need to know roughly how much bandwidth your applications use. 

A few examples of recommended speeds may help. 

YouTube Logo

(On TV or PC)
Standard Definition (SD) – 3Mbps
High Definition (HD) – 5Mbps
Ultra High Definition/4K – 25Mbps

(Mobile devices)
Standard Definition (SD) – 0.5Mbps
High Definition (HD) – 7Mbps

Netflix Logo

Minimum Requirement – 1.5Mbps
Standard Definition (SD) – 3Mbps
High Definition (HD) – 5Mbps
Ultra High Definition – 25Mbps

Spotify Logo

(Mobile devices)
Normal Quality – 0.96Mbps
High Quality – 0.160Mbps
Extreme Quality – 0.320Mbps

(Desktop Devices)
Standard Quality – 0.160Mbps
High Quality – 0.320Mbps

Xbox One Logo

Min Requirement (Download) – 3Mbps
Min Requirement (Upload) – 0.5Mbps

The figures above are representative examples and are per user. If two people in the house were watching Netflix simultaneously on 2 different devices in HD, then they would be using a combined bandwidth of 10Mbps.

Bandwidth can be described as the maximum amount of data you can to receive in a certain time frame (measured in seconds).

What is data allowance?

Anytime you stream music, look at a website, download a file or interact with the internet in any way, you are downloading information (data) to your device. Over a month this adds up. Some providers (not us) will give you an allowance (or data cap) of the amount of data that you can upload/download in a month.

For example, an average web page can contain images, text, videos and sometimes adverts. Every time you open a new web page you will need download the data required to view the page.

If you have a data allowance of 1GB (GigaByte) of data per month, that means you can (approximately):

  • Watch about  1 hour of Netflix (SD)
  • Receive approximately 1000 emails or
  • Watch around 5 hours of YouTube videos or
  • Upload 4000 photos to social media or
  • Browse 2-3000 webpages

If you watch a lot of videos online or game online on a daily basis you will soon eat up your data allowance and with some providers this will incur additional charges when you go over your allowance.

What is the difference between upload and download speeds?

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Most internet use is based on downloading data to your computer. Opening a web page, streaming music, watching videos of cats falling off cupboards etc.

Therefore internet providers will give you a higher download speed (or more bandwidth) in that direction. This is called an asymmetrical connection.

When you have a 30Mbps connection you will be able to use all the bandwidth for download so your data will download at 30Mbps.

For example at Wildanet, we offer 5Mbps upload speeds across all our residential packages.

So if you are simultaneously uploading a file at the same time as downloading or streaming, you will always get a 25Mbps download speed. 

So why is my internet so slow?

Let's continue with the water analogy.

In rural and hard to reach areas, the main broadband providers do not have big enough "pipes" to provide enough pressure to supply a whole village and meet demand. This is known as an oversubscribed network.

This is why major providers won't guarantee that you will always get a certain bandwidth speed from them and advertise their speeds as "up to xxMbps".

A recent legislation forced them to change their advertised speeds to an average speed rather than an "up to" speed. This legislation also meant that their statistics were based on a more realistic number of users. 

The reality is that an average village or rural area that hasn't had recent infrastructure investment such as a new fibre to the local cabinet, will not be any quicker than it was. 

At Wildanet, we are creating our own network to make sure we guarantee our network speeds. We don't rely on these "small water pipes" into villages and therefore can send enough bandwidth to the centre of a community to provide a much higher connection speed (or much more water pressure!)