Most of us understand the basics of the Internet – just enough to log onto Wi-Fi and maybe turn the router on and off when it starts to malfunction.
However, are you familiar with the terms ‘bandwidth’ and ‘latency’? If you’re not, that’s okay – you’re not alone! Both terms are related to your Internet’s ability to send and receive data, but despite their similarities, they refer to two very different concepts. So, what’s the difference between them, and why should they matter to you?
Bandwidth is a word that is thrown around a lot when discussing Internet function. Many people assume it just means ‘Internet speed,’ but that’s not exactly true. Bandwidth is essentially how much data can move from network point A to point B in a given amount of time.
Think of your bandwidth as a high-speed motorway with, say, three lanes. When an average number of cars are on the highway, everything is going smoothly, and the cars are moving at a good clip. But when it’s rush hour—that is, you’re trying to download something with more data than your bandwidth can handle—the highway gets congested. The traffic bottlenecks then slows to a crawl.
On the other hand, latency refers to the amount of time it takes for the signal to get from point A to point B and then travel back again. The lower the latency, the better your Internet will be because it means there’s less time between when you take your action and when you see the result.
For instance, think about when you do a Google search. You enter your query into the taskbar, click ‘enter,’ and then you wait. If you have low latency, the search engine will return your answer within milliseconds. But if you have higher latency, you might end up waiting a few seconds – or even longer – while the Internet retrieves your data. The ‘ping’ you sent is traveling, and you have to wait until it reaches the server, collects what you need, and makes its way back to you.
How Bandwidth and Latency Affect You
Both bandwidth and latency can affect the speed of your Internet but in different ways. If you’re a gamer, you’re likely already familiar with ‘lag,’ which is when you perform an action, but it takes a few moments for that entry to manifest in the game. This is a latency issue, as most of the assets you need to game are already loaded onto your computer, and therefore very little bandwidth is needed. Conversely, if you’re trying to stream a show online, but it keeps buffering or appears infuriatingly grainy and broken, that’s likely an example of low bandwidth. All that content has to squeeze its way down the digital superhighway.
Unfortunately, both bandwidth and latency issues can be a result of subpar high-speed Internet or a package that doesn’t fit your online needs anymore. If you want the best Internet experience available, you’ll want to determine how many devices you are using and in what manner. It may be time to look at upgrading your connection. If you need help determining what Internet package will work best for you, we’re here to help!