With a data connection, bandwidth, communication speed, or connection speed is the maximum transfer rate of a network cable or device. Essentially, it measures how fast data can be sent over a wired or wireless connection, usually measured in bps (bits per second). The more bandwidth a computer has, the faster it can send and receive information.
For example, when connecting to the Internet using a dial-up modem, your operating system may display "Connected at 56 kbps," indicating a maximum of 56 kilobits of data is transferred every second. Users with a broadband connection, specifically fiber-optic broadband, can get transfer speeds of up to 10 Gbps, nearly 180,000 times faster than a 56 kbps modem. Using a broadband connection loads web pages significantly faster than dial-up.
How does having more bandwidth speed up your Internet?
Having more bandwidth keeps your computer and other devices on your network from waiting for "space" where it can send and receive data. You can think of it like a larger pipe letting more water flow out of a drain.
For example, a slow connection with lower bandwidth may cause a file to take a minute or more to download. While the file is downloading, your computer must wait until it's complete, making your Internet seem slow or causing other downloads to slow down. With more bandwidth, however, the file would download faster as there is more "room" for information to travel.
Another way to think of bandwidth is to imagine a two-lane road that allows cars to travel in one lane in each direction (download and upload). Getting 100 cars through this road would require them to line up and wait for the car in front of them. However, if you expand the road to six lanes and allow three cars in each direction (i.e., more bandwidth), 100 cars could get across the road faster.
Upload and download
Most broadband connections are asynchronous, which means different speeds depending on how data is traveling. A download speed or receiving speed is how fast your computer can get files from the Internet. For example, when you browse the Internet, you download files from a server to be viewed in your browser. Download speeds are nearly always faster than upload speeds with these connections.
If bandwidth is shared with other computers, neighbors, devices, etc., you won't reach the maximum capacity reported by your ISP (Internet service provider).
How to increase my bandwidth
The only method of increasing your available bandwidth is through your Internet provider. In some situations, an Internet provider may offer different tiers of service that offer different levels of bandwidth. However, if your Internet provider doesn't have a higher tier level and you need a connection that provides more bandwidth, we suggest looking for an alternative provider. If no other providers in your area offer a faster connection, you cannot increase your bandwidth.
If you have a broadband connection shared between people in your house, you can request they stop doing their Internet activity to increase your bandwidth temporarily. For example, if you're getting interruptions with Skype and someone is watching a Netflix movie or playing an online game, having them stop increases your available bandwidth.
How to conserve bandwidth
Some Internet service providers have bandwidth limits or caps that may reduce your speed or charge you more if exceeded. To help reduce the amount of bandwidth used, try the following suggestions.
Reduce video content
Video content (e.g., YouTube, Netflix, Twitch, etc.) always uses the most bandwidth. If the service supports different video qualities, reduce the video quality to reduce the amount of bandwidth used.
If this doesn't help, reduce the number of videos you watch or look for alternative solutions. For example, instead of listening to music videos, use services that only stream the audio.
Talk with family
An Internet connection is usually shared with everyone in a home. If you're hitting your bandwidth limits, make sure everyone is aware of the problem and that they also try to follow the suggestions mentioned on this page.
Consider all Internet-connected devices
Any device that connects to the Internet uses some bandwidth. For example, devices like security cameras that upload video to the cloud can use a lot of bandwidth. If you have Internet-connected devices that don't need to be operational all day, set a schedule for the devices to only turn on when needed.
Use Wi-Fi or cell data
If you're running out of bandwidth from your smartphone service provider, ensure everyone on your plan uses Wi-Fi at home, school, and work. Many public places, like restaurants, libraries, and coffee shops, offer free Wi-Fi. Connecting to their Wi-Fi helps improve bandwidth and not use as much battery on your smartphone.
Wi-Fi in public places is often slower than home Wi-Fi, as there are many people that connect and use the connection.
Additionally, public Wi-Fi connections may not be secure. Other people could be monitoring or capturing the traffic on public Wi-Fi in an attempt to steal personal or confidential information. We recommend you do not access websites or upload documents that contain personal or confidential information. For more information and help on protecting yourself while on the Internet, see: How to protect yourself while on the Internet.
If you're on an unlimited phone data plan, but you're running out of bandwidth at home, consider having everyone use their smartphone plan and not Wi-Fi when on a smartphone or tablet. Furthermore, if it's available, you could use tethering for your other devices.
View smartphone use
If you're running out of data (bandwidth) on your smartphone service plan, view the phone settings to see which apps use the most data.