Choosing your internet service provider (ISP) can be a very overwhelming experience. From the litany of bundles and deals that you will be shown, to the rather arcane nature of the internet itself, it can be very hard to determine what is a good deal and what is not. To help you get the most bang for your buck, here is a brief overview of how internet speeds actually work. The more you know, the easier it will be for you to pick a plan that is perfect for you.
First and foremost, you are probably interested in the speed of the internet connection. Some households might only want to browse their email and watch Netflix, while others might want to frequently upload and download videos. The first group will probably want a slower, cheaper connection, while the second would likely opt for a much faster, more expensive connection.
Mbps vs MBps
Now, every internet plan will likely list maximum or average speed, but it is usually listed in Mbps. If you have ever taken a look at your downloads, then you have probably noticed that your download speed is generally somewhere between 1 and 10 megabytes per second. Now this might be a little confusing, because internet plans tend to start around 10 Mbps and go up to around 100. Where does this huge disparity between advertisement and reality come from?
As it turns out, the advertisements are usually pretty accurate. The problem is that they actually refer to a different unit than you are likely familiar with. While internet plans will tell you how many bits you will get per second, files are usually classified by how many bytes they contain. 1 byte actually consists of 8 bits. Therefore, a 40 Mbps plan will give you a real download speed of 5 megabytes per second. For reference, a 5 gigabyte file will take around 16-17 minutes to download at 40 Mbps. At 20 Mbps, it will take twice as long, and at 80 Mbps, it would take half the time.
A Trick for Telling the Difference
You can tell the difference between the abbreviations for megabits and megabytes at a glance pretty easily if you pay attention to the capitalization. As a general rule of thumb, if two units describe the same thing, but have different sizes, the larger will be capitalized when abbreviated, while the smaller will be lowercase.
Thus, the B in bytes is capitalized, while the b in bits is not. M is always capitalized in these contexts because it stands for mega, or million.
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