An Explanation Of Bandwidth: What It Means And How Much You Need
When planning a website and choosing a web hosting service, you have to predict and allocate the amount of bandwidth you’ll need, and this is often an unknown for a new website. What is “bandwidth”? How much bandwidth do you need? Even if you’re a seasoned website owner / operator, when it comes to understanding bandwidth offers from hosting companies, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Certain truths are inevitable when it comes to bandwidth:
- You need to find the right bandwidth option for your needs.
- Failure to do so will result in an underperforming website, additional charges, or both.
Reassuring Note: Before we begin, if you have a small business or informational website with a limited audience of 5,000 or fewer visitors per month, you probably don’t have to worry too much about bandwidth. Almost all major hosting companies like Pantheon, BlueHost, HostGator, GoDaddy, etc., can provide all the bandwidth you need within their cheapest hosting account. Some web hosting companies like Amazon AWS only charge you for the bandwidth you use. These hosting companies also make it easy to upgrade should you need to. Businesses that have “bandwidth-heavy” content such as video, audio, online apps, large images, and businesses that have a lot of traffic are the ones that should really be concerned – read on.
Also see our new video on bandwidth.
What is Bandwidth?
In its most basic definition, bandwidth describes the level of traffic and amount of data that can transfer between your site, users, and the Internet. Each web hosting company will offer a maximum levels of bandwidth for their tiers of hosting packages. This is often a good indication of which hosting companies have the best-in-class of three essential components: networks, connections and systems.
Usually, the more bandwidth a web host can provide, the faster and the better these three factors will be. At the same time, you should try to avoid attractive-looking “unlimited bandwidth” offers, as these are often not what they seem (more on this point later). “Unmetered bandwidth” should be more along the lines of what you are looking for.
Your Network Connectivity
You probably already know that the Internet consists of millions of computers around the world that are connected by networks. The bigger the connection, the faster the network, and the more bandwidth that is available for a site. If you are familiar with your home Internet connection, you have probably encountered bandwidth in terms of your connection speed. After all, speed is a lot easier for the layperson to understand than a technical-sounding term such as bandwidth.
Bandwidth at Home
Ten years ago, you might have used a frustratingly slow DSL connection with a speed of 1.5 megabits (MB) per second. Replace the word “speed” with “bandwidth” and it will become clear. Your allowed maximum “bandwidth” was a mere 1.5 megs per second for the transfer of data between the network and your computer.
The Advent of Broadband
The problem of dreadfully slow DSL connections gave rise to what is known as “broadband,” i.e., the capacity to transfer large amounts of data quickly over a copper cable connection. Fiber optic cable is now replacing copper cable, setting a new gold standard in broadband speeds, and moving us from the world of megabit speeds into the world of gigabit speeds (1000 megabits equal 1 gigabit).
Within Web Hosting
Getting back to web hosting, you can liken a DSL connection to a shared server. On its own, the connection or server is very powerful; when being shared by dozens or hundreds of people, it slows to a crawl. You can still experience this today in an Internet café or a library; the connection will be noticeably quicker early in the morning when you are the sole user than it will be later in the day when large numbers of users get online and slow the connection down (times of peak usage).
Bandwidth and the Relationship With Web Traffic
Let’s use another analogy to help make bandwidth clearer. In this example, the bandwidth is the number of tables in a restaurant, and the web traffic is the diners. The math is simple: The more tables in the restaurant, the more patrons can dine there at any one time.
Assuring Site Performance Under High Traffic Conditions
Translate this back to the Internet: The higher your bandwidth, the more people can visit your site at the same time and fully enjoy the peak experience you created for them. Remember, however, that it takes a very special restaurant with skilled employees to manage operations when the venue is full to capacity. How your site operates under the stress of high traffic will be crucial to your success. What is the use of high bandwidth if your site cannot cope? You might be able to facilitate 400 visitors a day. What would happen if they all turned up at once?
Understanding traffic patterns is an important consideration when choosing a bandwidth option. Taking the time now to conduct detailed research into your likely visitor demographics will result in a fact-based approach to determining your bandwidth needs. The most likely outcome? You will decide to pay for more bandwidth to assure consistency in your website performance throughout the day for all visitors.
Considering Bandwidth and Web Design
Do not fall prey to the common misconception that downloading data is only associated with popular entertainment sites such as YouTube or iTunes. Almost every action a person takes online involves downloading some amount of data. The bigger and more complicated your web design, the more bandwidth will be used up whenever someone visits your site, even if they don’t get past your homepage. Thankfully, modern web design trends are moving toward simplistic, minimalist designs. This means your own site can present a professionally designed, contemporary look without appearing to be a budget compromise.
We would be happy to speak with you about the impact of your website design on bandwidth needs.
The Big Question: How Much Bandwidth Do You Need?
The answer to this question depends on a variety of factors. Fortunately, we have a formula you can apply that will sort out these factors and help you nail down how much bandwidth you really need to support the traffic on your site. Armed with this information you can evaluate offers from different hosting companies, dismissing those that try to sell you more bandwidth than you need.