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by Archives October 5, 2005

When you’re choosing a broadband internet service provider (ISP), it’s pretty much between the big phone and cable companies…right? Wrong!

There are tons of small ISPs out there with better prices and better service, but all of this doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to look for.

There are three sets of numbers that are your main interest when you’re looking for an ISP: bandwidth, transfer caps and cost.

Bandwidth in this case is the amount of data that can be transferred by an internet connection in a second. This is broken apart into two separate measurements: Down speed and up speed. Down speed is the rate at which you download or receive information. Up speed is the rate at which you upload or send information. For consumer connections, up speeds are generally a fraction of what down speeds are.

ISPs quote bandwidth in Megabits per second (Mbps), which they hope you’ll confuse with Megabytes per second (MBps). So how do we translate the claims of ISPs into something a little bit more tangible? Sadly, it’s going to take a little math and yes, it will hurt.

Let’s start with kilobytes per second (KBps). This is the unit of bandwidth displayed in our internet browsers when we download a file.

There are roughly 1000 kilobytes in a megabyte. A bit is one 1 or 0, one byte is eight bits. One megabit is roughly one million bits, and one megabyte is 8 megabits. This means that you can divide the advertised bandwidth by 8 to arrive at MBps. You also need to compensate for network overhead, the data sent between computers that allows them to coordinate with each other. This will cost you around 15% of your transfer speed. So let’s say an ISP is offering a 5 Mbps down speed connection. Using what we know, we can estimate our maximum download rate:

( 5 Mbps

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