Does Bandwidth Increase Speed? They are not the same thing!

 

It’s terribly confusing that Bandwidth and Speed terms are used interchangeably as they are not the same thing but what it really comes down to is this question: Does bandwidth increase speed? Let’s explore what bandwidth is to see if we can answer this question.

Bandwidth is the number of “lanes” available to your computer. It is typically measured in Megabits/second of Mbps or Gigabits/second or Gbps. Do the number of lanes affect the speed of your car? Typically no, unless it’s rush hour.

What matters is how fast you can drive right? That’s “latency” in the internet/networking world. It is dependent on a lot of different factors, including but not limited to, the speed of your computer, the speed of your network card, the speed/how busy your local modem/router is, the speed/how busy your local internet provider’s infrastructure is and then all these factors on the other end of the connection as well. The “bottleneck” in the equation defines your latency at that particular time to whatever particular service.

So yes, bandwidth can increase speed but only if there is congestion. A sane person usually doesn’t seek out congestion so this is really only a problem in certain rural situations where congestion can’t be avoided. So, in a normal situation bandwidth will not increase speed.

So how do your measure your internet connection? Well, take those “bandwidth” sites with a grain of salt – they are best for measuring the bandwidth received to match up with the internet plan your paying for. The best measurement test I’ve found to determine “quality of experience” is the Cisco Webex Network test: https://mediatest.webex.com.

It measures a bunch of different things for a video call, which is the most demanding application for most people. If you get all green, then you’re in good shape. It means you could run all applications from that location without issues (as long as the opposite party doesn’t have a bad connection of course).

Check out my own article on how to improve your internet: https://textor.ca/2015/03/forget-a-bandwidth-upgrade-try-these-4-things-to-make-the-home-internet-experience-better/ 

Others have written on this subject – try here for another spin on this subject: https://accucode.com/bandwidth-vs-speed-which-is-more-important-2/

Notes:

Any speed test should be completed by a cabled computer. That is, not using WiFi. Also, typically, no other devices should be used, so only the testing computer is using the Internet connection. That is because all devices are aggregated to go out the Internet connection and will spoil the results. Even browsers may affect the result so try different browsers; more about that here

M-Lab, the platform/data behind CIRA and Google speed tests, has a visualization tool for average speeds located here (if it doesn’t work, try a different browser): https://www.measurementlab.net/visualizations/

Fast.com is Netflix’s internet speed test. You can access it by clicking here. Although it has the limitations I’ve previously identified (as with other speed tests), Netflix explains how they designed their speed test which may make it more accurate than other speed tests:
https://netflixtechblog.com/building-fast-com-4857fe0f8adb 

An ISP technician is the best person to be doing a proper line speed test. This will remove any complexities with the customer equipment and prove what the service could be capable of; irrespective of plan limits. Here’s what a test looks like. The tester is on the line and technician uses their phone to interact with it:

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