What Does High Speed Internet 5M Mean?
By Aaron Charles
As tech companies name their products and services, numbers and acronyms in their various combinations seem to increase just as fast as technology advances. The term "5M" is one more example of these technological naming conventions. In fact, "5M" can mean a number of things in the "techniverse," but in terms of Internet, it's all about speed.
The "M" in "5M" means is short for Mbps, or megabits per second. This should not be confused with MBps (emphasis on the capitalized "B"), which, according to Webopedia, means megabytes per second, not megabits. A megabit is equal to one million bits and represents the transfer speed across a network, such as the Internet. So, a high-speed Internet rating of 5M means that the general speed for that Internet connection is five megabits per second, or five Mbps.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) notes that, in general, Internet connection speeds available in the U.S. range from 200,000 kilobits per second (Kbps) to 100 Mbps. These high-speed connections are labeled as broadband Internet service, which goes above and beyond the speeds offered by old-fashioned dial-up connections. Broadband transmissions travel in digital form, meaning that the text, sound and images sent digitally over the Internet are in "bits" of data. In a 5M Internet connection, five million bits of data are sent every second, which is an Internet speed typically overkill for most Web use, but necessary for more demanding applications, such as watching high-definition (HD) videos online.
High-speed Internet service providers offer broadband in any of these ways: digital subscriber line (DSL), cable modem, fiber optic cable, wireless and satellite. The services available to you, including 5M service, depend on your local carriers. Subscribers in rural areas sometimes have no choice but to sign up for satellite Internet. CenturyLink (formerly Qwest) and AT&T are among DSL providers in the U.S.; and Comcast, Charter Communications and Time Warner are some who provide cable Internet. Verizon, CableOne and even Google provide fiber optic cable service. All of these companies can get you wireless Internet. And satellite Internet providers, such as WildBlue, HughesNet and DIRECTV, continue to expand their services.
Generally, you can expect to reach 5M service from nearly any broadband service provider -- except for satellite Internet providers, as of the publication date. The FCC notes that consumers can expect download speeds of about one Mbps from satellite Internet providers, which is certainly sufficient for general Web use, such as browsing, sending email and watching non-HD videos. However, this speed typically can't take care of higher demands, such as viewing HD videos and having multiple users accessing the Web simultaneously, as can 5M. To find out what Internet providers and speeds are available in your area, contact a known provider in your area or your state's public service commission.
Aaron Charles began writing about "pragmatic art" in 2006 for an online arts journal based in Minneapolis, Minn. After working for telecom giant Comcast and traveling to Oregon, he's written business and technology articles for both online and print publications, including Salon.com and "The Portland Upside."