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What is Network Bandwidth and How do You Measure it?

Network interfaces support a particular rate at which data can pass through the medium. In networking, the term bandwidth is used to refer to this data rate. Bandwidth represents the capacity that a network connection carries with it, to allow smooth data transfer. Networks that support higher bandwidths offer better performance when compared to networks that support lower bandwidths. However, the overall performance of a network is related to several other factors, besides the network bandwidth.

The origin of the term bandwidth traces itself to the field of electrical engineering. In Electrical Engineering, bandwidth refers to a range. It is the measure of distance between the lowest and the highest signals in a communication channel or band.

Network Bandwidth

What is the Most Suitable Method to Measure Network Bandwidth?

Bits per second (BPS) is the unit of measurement of the computer network bandwidth. Modern networking devices support data rates up to thousands, millions, or billions of Bits per Second (BPS). The most common units employed to identify these data rates are in terms of Gigabyte, Megabyte or Kilobyte ranges (Gbps, Mbps, Kbps).

What is Bandwidth Rating for Network Devices?

Network devices can support a maximum data rate based on the physical properties and capabilities of the medium. A bandwidth rating represents the data rate for network devices. The maximum data rate for a device is dependent on its network protocol technology. Device manufacturers or protocol designers assign bandwidth ratings to devices. Examples of bandwidth ratings include 54 Mbps bandwidth rating for 802.11g Wi-Fi devices, 56 Kbps for V.90 dial-up modems, and 100 Mbps for Fast Ethernet links.

How Does Bandwidth Compare to Throughout for Networks?

Throughout and bandwidth are sometimes used interchangeably. However, they are very different terms. Bandwidth is a theoretical term. It is the maximum data that a network connection can transfer. On the other hand, the actual data that is capable of passing over a particular network connection is identified by throughput.

Throughout is invariably lower than the bandwidth for most networks. The difference lies in various factors such as network collisions, message packaging, network errors and retries, and similar communication overheads. Throughput for a particular network can be measured by the Internet Speed Test or by specific utility programs including TTCP.

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