How Does Bandwidth Impact a User's Experience on the Internet?

By Dan Stone

Higher bandwidth Internet is like a larger pipe: more can move through it at once.
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Bandwidth affects how long it takes to download or upload information over the Internet. A connection that has plenty of bandwidth available provides a smooth, responsive user experience. The more available bandwidth, the more quickly data can be transferred; however, the law of diminishing returns applies here. Once you have sufficient bandwidth, Internet performance is not further affected.

Bandwidth Versus Latency

Bandwidth measures how much information an Internet connection can move at a given time, whereas latency measures how long it takes for a connection to start a file transfer. Low-latency is important in real-time, small-size transfers while bandwidth is important for moving large files across the Internet. Bandwidth is measured in megabits per second: faster-tier service is rated with a higher Mbps than a slower-tier service. Latency is measured in milliseconds: the lower the better.

Bandwidth and Large Files

Bandwidth isn't particularly important when downloading lots of small files when doing something like Web browsing or emailing because the information exchanges are relatively small. However, bandwidth is key when doing something like downloading large files from a website: a low-speed 2Mbps connection will take just over an hour to download a 1GB file whereas a 50Mbps connection can download the same file in under three minutes.

Bandwidth and Small Files

Bandwidth is less important with small files like a 1MB website: a 2Mbps connection would load the page in three seconds whereas a 50Mbps connection would finish the download in one second. You probably won't notice much of a different experience with a two-second load difference. Latency is not much of an issue in a large file transfer because it's adding a second or two to a large transfer; however, when loading a small file, a lower-bandwidth connection with a lower latency may finish the download before a higher-bandwidth connection with a high latency.

Insufficient Bandwidth Use

You won't notice much of a difference between a 100Mbps bandwidth connection and a 10Mbps bandwidth connection if all you're doing is viewing basic websites. However, if you're on a 10Mbps connection, watching an HD movie on Netflix and sharing the connection with another user who is watching HD-quality videos on YouTube, bandwidth is going to be a factor. Both streams require a full 10Mbps connection to run at high-quality, so you may experience long buffer times and reduced picture quality. If a third user jumps on the network at the same time and tries to view websites, the websites may take a long time to load because all the connection bandwidth is already being used up. However, if you were sharing a 100Mbps connection instead of a 10Mbps connection, you'd likely all have a smooth, fast user experience.