Computer networking is perhaps the greatest concept that man has brought into existence to date. Computer networking gave wake to the Internet, complex communication and collaboration on projects and most recently, IoT. With such a huge concept coming to existence, other seemingly odd names crop up to define some parts of such a concept. These words may be confusing and sometimes may seem irrelevant. However, like the seemingly ignored foundation of the house these concepts are more than most people conceive. Today, we demystify this concept of computer network bandwidth.

To understand bandwidth, you have to have an idea of how a computer network works. You need to understand the broad categories of computer networks and finally, you need to understand that reading more is understanding more – we on the same page? Let us move on.

Bandwidth is the maximum rate of data transfer across a given path, in a given amount of time. Bandwidth is all about amount, time and path. This is to mean that dependent on the path, bandwidth shall differ but on any given specific path time and amount should remain constant with the exception of a few things that we shall look into at the end of this article. The perfect analogy to make sure you understand this concept is water piping.

Consider a water pipe; a foot in diameter and made of thick steel. We can already see water is not going to burst through the pipe so that aside. You have a tank that is say, 100 thousand cubic feet. It would not matter how much water you pump through the pipe, there is a maximum water volume in a specific amount of time that can pass through the pipe and no more therefore, the tank shall always have a constant minimum amount of time it will take to fill up. That is the pipe’s bandwidth. But we all know water companies never pump water through pipes at maximum throttle.

As mentioned earlier, bandwidth shall depend on the medium in use and mediums are quite a variety in today’s world. They range from optic fibers, copper wires twisted in fashion and wireless medium using waves to transmit data. Computer network medium is beyond the scope of this article but it is worth mentioning to help elaborate the concept.

To measure bandwidth, we consider two things. The first is the amount of time which is measured in seconds and the second thing is the amount of data measured in bits. In essence, bandwidth is represented as B/s with some variations. Since times have changed and technology advanced, bits don’t just cut it any more. We moved to Kb/s then Mb/s to Gb/s and in the future; Tb/s. A common misconception however needs to be debunked! Bandwidth is NOT network speed. Remember the water pipe analogy and how water companies never pump water at maximum capacity? That is just one factor and in computer networking, technical concepts come into play.

Consider a medium with a simple 100Mb/s Bandwidth. By and standards, that is very fast for an end user streaming YouTube videos, right? Question is, if the cables on my network indicate their bandwidth is 100Mb/s, and my Telco claims to have a 1Gb/s bandwidth connection, why am I streaming at a mere 1Mb/s? Four things; Number of Users, Latency, Packet Loss  & Jitters. Keep in mind that I am holding some other factors constant.

Do note that the term bandwidth is highly misused and misunderstood however with this short article, you are now in the know.

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