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“Bits” and “bytes” are measurements used for internet bandwidth and file size. To the common person, these units can be confusing. They certainly aren’t measurements that most people use day-to-day. Understanding how to measure file size and internet bandwidth helps you make sure you are getting the best value on your internet service plan.

bits measure bandwidth speed and bytes measure file size
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Bits vs Bytes

What’s the difference between a “bit” and a “byte?” It can be hard to make sense of all the jargon used in tech. Understanding the units of measurement for technology can make it easier to understand computer issues and internet services. Byte and bit are two common units that are used to describe file size and internet bandwidth.

AbbreviationUnitExplanation
bbitThe “speed” (bandwidth) of an internet connection is typically measured in bits per second. When referring to bandwidth, bits per second are constrained by the width of the “pipe,” not the “speed” of the packets. An example is if the packets are moving at the speed of light down fiber lines, and the speed of light is a constant.
Bbyte There are 8 bits in a byte. The file size is typically defined in terms of bytes instead of bits. This makes an 8 Mbps (megabits per second) internet connection capable of downloading 1 MB in one second.

How Many Bits or Bytes?

Bits and bytes tell you what is being measured (speed or data size), but how do you tell you how much there is? Metric system-based prefixes are used to tell you how many bits or bytes. For example, 1 megabyte (MB) is 0.001 gigabyte (GB)

AbbreviationUnitValue
kkilo1,000
Mmega1,00,000 or 1,000 k
Ggiga1,000,000,000 or 1,000 m

If you ever feel outraged that your 20 Mbps internet service “only downloaded 2.4 MB per second,” remember to pay attention to those units (b versus B)! You may see speed metrics displayed as bits per second or as bytes per second, and it can be easy to miss the difference. It is actually very good internet speed if you can download 2.4 MB per second on a 20 Mbps internet connection. Every byte equals eight bits, so 2.4 MB is equal to 19.2 Mb (on target for the 20 Mbps internet plan).

Bandwidth and File Size Quick References

Remember that bits are for speed and bytes are for file size! If you see “GB,” you are seeing “how much.” If you are seeing “Mbps,” you are seeing “how fast.”

  • 1 byte = 8 bits; 1 megabyte (MB) = 8 megabits (Mb)
  • Mbps = Megabits per second
  • 1 MB = 10002 bytes or 8 Mb
  • 1 Mb = 10002 bits
  • To download 1 MB in 1 second, you need an 8 Mbps internet speed

How Many Bits are Enough?

Your internet speed (bandwidth) is measured in megabits per second (Mbps). There are two speeds for internet connection. Those are download speed and upload speed. Typically, upload speed only needs to be one-tenth of download speed.

You may want more upload speed if you game online or use remote work tools like Zoom. Gamers and remote workers will likely want a 1 to 5 Mbps download speed. For lighter internet use, 1 to 5 Mbps download speed can be sufficient. Webformix can also provide additional upload speed a-la-carte and offers a variety of wireless internet plans.

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