What Is Bandwidth, Network Connection and Traffic?

Newbie Introduction to the Web

Let me explain bandwidth with an analogous example. There is a huge water reservoir where water is going in at one end and at the same time water is coming out at another end. The administrator has a variety of plans to distribute water. A web of water pipes, big and small, has been installed. They offer to distribute water in those pipes under a variety of plans. You look at the plans, select one and agree that you would get X number of cubic feet of water per second 24◊7 for the whole month for a fixed price.

When you spend all your allocated water before the month expires, either you pay extra for the rest of the month or your website or blog will be temporarily suspended until the beginning of the following month when you make your payment.

Now imagine, instead of water or more precisely water drops, the pipes have information or data going back and forth, especially coming to you. The information is measured in terms of bits per second, usually Mega (or million) bits per second. The quota analogy still applies.

So put simply, bandwidth is the amount of traffic that is allowed to occur between your website and the rest of the Internet, your web host being the source of it. Actually, the request first goes to your ISP (Internet Service Provider). The amount of bandwidth a hosting company can provide is determined by their network connections, both internal to their data center and external to the public Internet. Your hosting company is where your website or blog resides. Imagine the ISP being a conduit.

Bandwidth is measured in bits (a single 0 or 1). Bits are grouped in bytes which form words, text, and other information that is transferred between your computer and the internet.

How much bandwidth is enough?
While offering simple web pages doesnít use up much bandwidth, the same canít be said about downloading files. If you plan on allowing people to download music files, pdf files, flash files, or video files, you can eat up bandwidth in a hurry even with a relatively small number of people visiting your website. If your website offers an adobe .pdf file that is 1 megabyte in size, with one gigabyte of bandwidth, you will only be able to serve up one thousand downloads. This does not include the html needed to get people to download the pdf in the first place.

Video files eat up even more space. A one megabyte video file represents only seconds of video. For a half hour presentation, your video file could easily be over two hundred megabytes in size! At that size, one gigabyte would only allow you to offer five downloads to your visitors. What you plan to do with your website most definitely will affect how much monthly bandwidth you anticipate needing.

Bandwidth requirements for broadband services

Service                                   Bandwidth (downstream)
Broadcast TV (MPEG-2)          2 to 6 Mb/s
HDTV (MPEG-4)                     6 to 12 Mb/s
PPV or NVOD                         2 to 6 Mb/s
VOD                                       2 to 6 Mb/s
Picture in Picture (MPEG-2)    Up to 12 Mb/s
PVR                                        2 to 6 Mb/s
Interactive TV                        Up to 3 Mb/s
High-speed Internet             3 Mb/s to 10Mb/s
Video conferencing              300 to 750 Kb/s

Voice/video telephony          64 to 750 Kb/s

Network Connection
The Internet is a group of millions of computers connected by networks. These connections within the Internet can be large or small depending upon the cabling and equipment that is used at a particular Internet location. It is the size of each network connection that determines how much bandwidth is available.

For example, if you use a DSL connection to connect to the Internet, you have 1.54 Mega bits (Mb) of bandwidth where you have dedicated bandwidth between your computer and your ISP. But your internet provider may have thousands of DSL connections to their location. All of these connections aggregate at your ISP who then has their own dedicated connection to the Internet (or multiple connections) which is much larger than your single connection.

They must have enough bandwidth to serve your computing needs as well as all of their other customers. So while you have a 1.54Mb connection to your USP which, in turn, may have a 255Mb connection to the internet so that it can accommodate your needs and up to 166 other users (255/1.54).

An example of traffic might be that bandwidth is the number of lanes on the highway and traffic is the number of cars on the highway. If you are the only car on a highway, you can travel very quickly. If you are stuck in the middle of rush hour, you may travel very slowly since all of the lanes are being used up. Just like highways, there are bottlenecks on the Internet that will slow the traffic down.

Read my article on bits and bytes.

Traffic is simply the number of bits that are transferred on network connections. Depending upon the network connection between the website host and your ISP through the Internet, the transfer of an MP3 song may occur very quickly, or it could take time if other people are also downloading files at the same time.

The network equipment at the hosting company will cycle through each person downloading the file and transfer a small portion at a time so each person file transfer can take place, but the transfer for everyone downloading the file will be slower.

In a Nutshell
These days, most personal or small business sites will not need more than 1GB of bandwidth per month. If you have a web site that is composed of static web pages and you expect little traffic to your site on a daily basis, go with a low bandwidth plan. If you go over the amount of bandwidth allocated in your plan, your hosting company could charge you over usage fees, so if you think the traffic to your site will be significant, ask your web host to increase your bandwidth.
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