What Is Bandwidth?
- Aug 6, 2018
Bandwidth can refer to many things depending on the application being discussed. When it comes to radio, bandwidth often refers to wavelength. In optics, it is the width of an individual spectral line or the entire spectral range. For our discussion, we will be speaking of bandwidth in terms of business communication solutions.
Even here the term can be misleading. We will use the term as it is most commonly referred to in reference to the internet. That is as a unit of measurement that represents the rate at which data or bits of information may be transmitted through a system.
Think of bandwidth as a pipe or a hose. The bigger the pipe or hose, the larger the volume of water that you can put through it. Do not confuse this with pressure. By constricting a pipe, one can cause water to be expelled very rapidly. However, did more volume of water actually flow through the pipe? It depends on the size.
Now apply the same concept to telecommunications. Bandwidth is the pipe or hose of the communications industry. The larger the pipe, the more information that can be passed through it.
Assume that there is a small campfire. If we have a regular garden hose, we should be able to get enough volume of water through it to put the fire out. Now imagine your house is on fire. Your little garden hose won’t be of much help in this instance. You need a large diameter hose such as that used by your local fire department. Even more importantly, they don’t come and hook their hoses up to your outside spigot, do they? No, they use the large pipes connected to the local fire hydrant.
Now let’s get back to our garden hose of telecommunications. This is actually a regulated flow, with a number of control mechanisms.
First, there is the diameter of the water pipe. It only allows a certain amount to flow through it. Then there is the hose itself. This is usually even smaller in diameter, so flow is restricted even more. The spigot acts as the final control mechanism. You can open or close the spigot to increase or decrease the desired flow.
What are the purposes of these constraints? To help control the flow of water through the system. Enough is let through to meet our needs. If more were allowed to flow through, we may experience flooding or over saturation. The control mechanisms help to avoid waste.
Now imagine our house fire situation again. Even opened up to its fullest, the garden hose can not allow enough volume through it to put out the fire. A larger hose and pipe are needed to get adequate flow to do the job.
OK, How Does This Answer “What is Bandwidth?”
Bandwidth is similar to this. Bandwidth is the range of frequencies that can be carried across a given transmission channel. The more information being sent, the more bandwidth is necessary.
A typical analog telephone line requires 3-kHz to handle voice communications. The phone company actually breaks the electromagnetic spectrum into 4-kHz slices. These slices are limited with bandpass filters (think spigot). Now this works well until we introduce data into the equation. At that point, there is not enough capacity in the typical phone line to handle the additional information that must be moved through the system.
These services can be likened to the fire companies’ hoses and the fire hydrant. They are broadband internet services.
In telecommunications, broadband refers to a system capable of carrying a relatively wide range of frequencies. These frequencies can then be divided into channels. Each channel can then be used to transmit information. The more frequencies or channels, the more information can be transmitted. In other words, more frequencies equal a bigger hose. This hose then connects to the central office of the telephone company or a bigger spigot, much like the fire hydrant.
This is why most companies are moving away from the typical dial-up service and into either DSL, Cable Modem, Satellite or T1 service. They are simply looking for a bigger hose to put more information through in order to satisfy and extinguish the ever-present demand (fire) for more information.
Bandwidth vs. Speed
Internet speed is a major vice to any internet user. Even though internet speed and data transfer mostly revolve around bandwidth, your internet speed can also be different from the internet bandwidth expectations. What tends to make it complicated is that the terms bandwidth, speed, and bandwidth speed are used interchangeably, but they are actually different things. Most people refer to speed as how long it take to upload and download files, videos, livestreams, and other content.
Bandwidth is the size of the pipe or the overall capacity for data. Keep in mind that you could have great bandwidth and not so great speed if your end system, your network, can’t handle all of the flow of information.
They key is making sure everything matches up. If you want to know more about your internet performance, you can use an internet speed test. This could help you see if your internet service provider is providing the actual internet connection that you are expecting, or if there are problems at the network level with being able to handle the data.
Use of bandwidth can also be monitored by a network bandwidth monitor. Network bandwidth is a fixed commodity. There are several ways to use network bandwidth. First, you can control the data flow in your internet connection. That is you can streamline data from one point to another point. Next, you can also optimize data so that it consumes less bandwidth from what is allocated.
In summary, bandwidth is the amount of information and internet connection can handle in a given period. An internet connection operates much faster or slower depending on whether the bandwidth is large or small. With a larger bandwidth, the set of data transmission is much faster than an internet connection with a lower bandwidth.
Generally, we can describe bandwidth as a measure of how fast data is transferred in an internet connection. To learn more about your bandwidth and internet needs for your business, work with a knowledgeable provider who can ensure you build and receive the system that is right for you.