Bandwidth: The Meaning and How to Measure It

8 min read
April 27, 2023

As our dependency on the internet grows, the importance of a high-performing network cannot be overstated. Whether you’re streaming video content, conducting business online, or simply browsing the web, high bandwidth is critical for ensuring a smooth and best possible experience. 

Put simply, bandwidth acts as the backbone of network performance. Effective bandwidth measurement is vital to identifying network bottlenecks and optimising performance.

Table of Contents

  1. What is bandwidth and how does it work?
  2. Why is bandwidth important?
  3. How exactly is bandwidth measured?
  4. Best practices for accurate bandwidth measurement
  5. Key considerations when measuring bandwidth
  6. Factors that can affect bandwidth
  7. How to increase bandwidth?
  8. How Digital Samba optimises bandwidth for smooth video streaming

In this blog post, we’ll look at how bandwidth works, why it’s an important concept to understand, and how to measure it to understand network performance. 

What is bandwidth and how does it work?

Bandwidth represents how much information a network can transfer in a given period of time. Measured in bits per second (bps), bandwidth is used to understand the potential capacity of a network connection, and the rate at which data can be transmitted between two points over any given time period. 

The bandwidth & data transfer connection

Bandwidth and data transferring are commonly mistaken to mean the same thing. But, both are different aspects that affect your network connection.

Bandwidth represents the maximum potential capacity, while data transfer measures the actual amount of data that moves through the connection in a specific period.

Understanding bandwidth & speed

While they may seem similar, speed and bandwidth are distinct concepts. Speed determines how quickly data can be transferred from source to destination, while bandwidth determines how much data can be transferred simultaneously. A high-bandwidth connection can quickly transfer a lot of data, resulting in faster speeds. 

Selecting the right bandwidth level for your specific needs is essential to ensure optimal performance. Doing so will help you get the most out of your network connection, allowing you to enjoy fast speeds and reliable performance when accessing online content and transferring large files.

Understanding Bandwidth & Speed

If you’re a heavy streamer, regularly do video conferencing calls, or frequently transfer large files, opt for a higher bandwidth plan to ensure fast and reliable performance. On the other hand, if you only use the internet for basic browsing and emailing, a lower bandwidth plan may suffice.

Why is bandwidth important?

Here are some key reasons why bandwidth is important for network performance and user experience:

Faster data transfer

Bandwidth determines how quickly data can be sent and received over a network. The higher the bandwidth, the faster users can transfer large files or stream high-definition videos, making it easier to handle work remotely and stay connected with colleagues.

Improved user experience

Bandwidth plays a critical role in providing a seamless user experience. Whether streaming videos, playing games, or browsing the web, higher bandwidth ensures a smoother and faster experience.

Better network performance

 Bandwidth is essential for maintaining network performance. When multiple devices are linked to a network, bandwidth determines the ability of a network to handle data transfer requirements from all devices without affecting network performance for each device. 

For example, if multiple devices are connected to a network and all of them are being used to attend video meetings, the video quality will be poor if the bandwidth is insufficient to support the data transfer happening across all devices.

Supports high-volume traffic

Sufficient bandwidth translates to your network’s ability to support high-volume traffic. For many use cases, such as video conferencing, having a smooth internet connection means having sufficient bandwidth to support greater data transfer. 

Impact on critical applications

Bandwidth is also critical for applications that require high-speed connections, such as video conferencing or cloud-based services. These applications require a stable and fast connection to function properly, and insufficient bandwidth can cause delays, disruptions, and poor performance.

Get your project estimation

Contact our sales team today!


How to measure bandwidth?

Measuring bandwidth is essential in ensuring a network operates at peak performance and user experience. 

Tools and methods for measuring bandwidth

Various tools and methods for measuring the available bandwidth include throughput tests, latency tests, and other technologies such as packet sniffers or traceroute programs. 

Here are some common bandwidth measurement tools and methods used to measure bandwidth:

Throughput tests

Throughput tests measure the performance of networks by monitoring their speed and capacity for data transfer or transmission. Throughput tests usually use specific tools such as iPerf, ttcp, qperf, or netperf. These tools send packets of data across a network and measure how long it takes for them to reach their destination, indicating the network's overall performance.

Latency tests

Latency tests monitor the amount of time it takes for data to travel from one point on a network to another. These are useful for identifying potential bottlenecks in a network or measuring the performance of a particular service. 

Standard latency test tools include ping, traceroute, and pathping. These send packets of data between two points on a network and measure the time they take to reach their destination.

Packet sniffers

Packet sniffers monitor the traffic that passes through a network, collecting information such as the source and destination of each packet and the amount of data transferred. 

Traceroute programs

Traceroute programs send packets of data and then track their progress through multiple points on a network. This information can be used to identify slow or faulty connections, indicating potential bottlenecks in a network.

It is essential to conduct bandwidth tests under conditions that are as close to real-world usage as possible. When conducting tests, administrators should simulate the usage patterns in their network in an actual production environment. This will ensure that any performance issues or bottlenecks are accurately identified and can be addressed accordingly.

Best practices for accurate bandwidth measurement

Here are some best practices to ensure accurate measurement:

Use reliable tools

Using reliable tools for measuring bandwidth is essential. Many free tools are available on the Internet, but they may not provide accurate results. It is recommended to use a commercial-grade tool that is specifically designed for network performance measurement.

Test under real-world conditions

It’s necessary to test under real-world conditions to measure bandwidth accurately. Testing during off-peak hours may provide inaccurate results because of low network traffic. Testing during peak hours will provide a more accurate measurement because it will simulate real-world network traffic.

Best Practices for Accurate Bandwidth Measurement

Test both upstream and downstream bandwidth

Testing upstream and downstream bandwidth will provide a more accurate picture of your network performance. Upstream bandwidth refers to the speed at which data is transmitted from a user's device to the Internet, while downstream bandwidth refers to the speed at which data is received from the Internet to the user's device.

Eliminate interference

Interference from other devices on the network can affect the accuracy of bandwidth measurement. Try to eliminate interference from other devices by disconnecting them from the network during testing.

Test with different file sizes

Testing with different file sizes will help identify how network performance varies with different file sizes. Testing with small files will accurately measure latency while testing with large files will accurately measure throughput.

Repeat testing

It is recommended to repeat testing multiple times to measure network performance accurately. Repeating testing will help identify any anomalies or inconsistencies in the results.

By following these best practices, administrators can accurately measure network performance and identify areas for improvement. 

Key considerations when measuring bandwidth

Here are some key factors to consider when measuring bandwidth:

Application usage and  bandwidth

The type of applications used on the network can significantly impact bandwidth usage. For example, video streaming applications require much more bandwidth than email or web browsing. It’s essential to consider the types of applications used when measuring bandwidth to understand network performance accurately.

Bandwidth and transfer rate

While often used interchangeably, bandwidth and transfer rates differ. Bandwidth refers to the maximum data that can be transmitted over a network connection in a given period, while transfer rate is the actual amount of data transferred per second. It is essential to understand this difference when measuring network performance.

Throughput vs bandwidth

Throughput is the amount of data transmitted over a network connection in a given time, while bandwidth is the maximum amount of data that can be transmitted. In other words, bandwidth is a theoretical maximum, while throughput is the amount of data being transmitted. 

When measuring network performance, it’s essential to consider throughput and bandwidth to get a complete picture of network performance.

Key Considerations When Measuring Bandwidth

Factors that can affect bandwidth

A few common factors that can significantly affect bandwidth include:

Network congestion

When too many people access the same network resources at the same time, it can slow down or completely disrupt internet service due to overloaded systems. Bandwidth problems that arise from this are known as network congestion. To avoid network congestion, make sure you have sufficient bandwidth to match the number of people sharing the network and the amount of data requirements each user has. 

Hardware limitations

Outdated hardware such as switches, routers, servers or cable connections that can’t handle the speed required by the network can affect network performance and lead to network congestion.

Latency and throughput 

Latency is the delay between when a data packet leaves one device to when it arrives at another, while throughput is the number of data packets transferred from one point to another. Bandwidth problems can arise if latency is too high. Also, if throughput is greater than the available bandwidth, network congestion problems can arise due to dropped packets and related performance issues. 

Packet loss 

Packet loss occurs when data packets fail to reach their destination, which can slow down or disrupt internet service due to high latency. You can identify packet loss by pinging a website and looking for dropped packets in the results. It's essential to fix any issues with packet loss as soon as possible to avoid further bandwidth problems.

How to increase bandwidth?

When trying to increase bandwidth, several different measures can be taken.

Upgrade hardware

Upgrading hardware is one of the essential elements for improving network performance and optimising available bandwidth. This may involve upgrading routers, switches, or other network equipment as necessary.

Reduce network congestion

Network congestion occurs when too many users try to access a network simultaneously, leading to serious performance issues. To avoid this issue, organisations should look into strategies to reduce congestion, such as implementing policies to limit how much traffic can be sent at once or setting limits on the maximum number of users during peak times.

Adjust network settings

Organisations should also consider adjusting their network settings, such as Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU), Quality of Service (QoS), and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), to optimise their performance. These settings ensure that bandwidth is used efficiently and that traffic is appropriately prioritised.

How to increase bandwidth

Set priorities for bandwidth-intensive applications

Finally, organisations should consider setting priorities for bandwidth-intensive applications like video streaming. This will ensure that these applications are given adequate bandwidth and don't slow down other traffic.

Companies can also look into third-party solutions such as Digital Samba, which uses a unique algorithm to automatically adjust bandwidth usage. Additionally, companies can increase their bandwidth and improve their network performance by taking the above measures. 

With better performance comes improved user experience, increased productivity, reduced stress levels, and more. Ultimately, these measures can lead to a better overall experience for the organisation and its users. Consider implementing some of these strategies today. You won't be disappointed!

How Digital Samba optimises bandwidth for smooth video streaming

 Digital Samba's proprietary video streaming technology is designed to reduce bandwidth consumption and ensure a smooth, high-quality experience. Our algorithm responds to available bandwidth and local computing resources and adjusts to provide the best video quality possible. 

The result? Our Video Conferencing API is built to handle data requirements at scale. For businesses that cannot afford interruption, our API is perfect for making the best use of available bandwidth and computing resources. Take a live, no-commitment walkthrough of how it works and see for yourself!

Request a free consultation with our dev team
Optimise bandwidth for smooth video streaming with Digital Samba
Get a consultation


Get Email Notifications