Bandwidth vs Latency vs Throughput: Differences Explained

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Bandwidth and Latency are the two-term that are often confusing and sound similar, but they are not the same thing.

Understanding the differences between bandwidth and latency will let you know the exact problem of your internet connection.

When it comes to an internet connection, both consumers and businesses want good internet speed and better performance.

So, the Internet Service Provider (ISP) is always eager to provide you with good bandwidth.

Good bandwidth doesn’t need to give you good internet speed. The internet speed or any network speed depends on several factors, and bandwidth is one factor.

Moreover, latency and throughput play a crucial role in addition to bandwidth in deciding network speed.

Understanding Bandwidth

People often hear that higher bandwidth is better, which is true. But, higher bandwidth doesn’t equate with network speed or internet speed directly.

So, what is bandwidth, and why you need more bandwidth?

What is bandwidth?

Bandwidth measures the maximum amount of data that can be transferred from one point to another over a specific period of time.

The bandwidth components include download and upload speed, which is measured in megabits per second or Mbps.

You can think of bandwidth as a pipe. The wider it is, the greater the amount of data that can be transferred at one time.

Bandwidth Explained

The bandwidth term comes from the communication “band” and the “width” of the communication band.

So, the larger the communication band’s width, the greater the data can be transferred from one point to another.

Previously, bandwidth was measured in bits per second, but with modern networks’ evolution, the data capacity has increased.

It is now expressed in Megabits per second (Mbps) or Gigabits per second (Gbps).

Further, it means that megabits or gigabits of data can be transferred in one second.

Moreover, people often get confused with bits and byte. Bits are used to measure the network speed, whereas byte is used to measure the data storage.

The lower case “b” stands for bits, and the upper case “B” stands for byte. Additionally, one byte is equal to 8 bits.

So, the 20 Mbps network speed doesn’t mean that it can download 20 MB files in one second. It will take 8 seconds because a 20 MB file contains 160 megabits.

Understanding Latency

Latency is all about the lag from the point the data packet is sent and where it is received and processed.

Moreover, you need to understand that no bandwidth would help restore the performance in a high latency internet connection.

What is Latency?

Latency measures the amount of time it takes to transfer data from one point to another point.

The latency is mostly referred to as “ping” in the speed test. It is measured in milliseconds or ms.

In pipe analogy, you can consider water pressure as latency. If the latency is less, it means less congestion, and the data can be processed faster and quickly over a period of time.

Latency explained

In networking, the round trip delay is usually measured as latency. However, a one-way trip is also measured as latency, but it is less common.

The round trip delay is the time taken from source to destination and then back to the source.

In TCP/IP network, the round trip delay is important because the source computer sends a limited amount of data and waits for the destination server’s response.

If the acknowledgment is received from the destination server, only then, it sends more data. So, latency has a great impact on the performance of the network.

If the network experience high latency, then it indicates a slow or poor internet connection. It means it takes a longer time for data packets to reach the destination server.

How to reduce latency?

There are so many factors that give rise to latency. Some of the below factors you can consider to reduce latency.

Wired connection reduces latency:

You can lose the wireless connection’s data packets, which vary in different wireless connections.

To compensate for packet loss, the server resets all information, causing the delay. The cheap and easy way to improve latency is to use a wired connection or upgrade to a fiber-optic connection.

Rebooting your network:

In most cases, rebooting your network will improve the latency. It happens when your device, like router or modem, is not turned off for a longer period of time.

It would help if you unplugged your router or modem and reboot to get started.

Upgrade firewalls or removing multiple firewalls:

Sometimes we use more than one firewall to protect the network, but this creates a tremendous strain on the network.

Also, corrupted firewalls or not-upgraded firewalls can slow down the network connection.

So, disabling the firewall or upgrading the firewall may help to figure out the current slow down.

Remove or repair faulty hardware:

The faulty hardware can create lag which may affect the network speed.

Eliminating or repairing faulty hardware may reduce the latency in a network.

Close unwanted application:

Every network has limited bandwidth. If you close an unwanted application, it will reduce bandwidth usage and further reduce the latency.

Understanding Throughput

When we combine bandwidth and latency, then you get throughput.

It is because both bandwidth and latency affect the throughput of the network connection.

What is Throughput?

Throughput measures the actual amount of data transferred from one point to another over a given time frame.

It measures the data packets received in the destination successfully in bits per second.

Throughput Explained

Throughput is the key metric to determine the performance of the network. It measures the number of data packets that arrive at the destination and the packet lost during the transition.

Moreover, throughput is important in troubleshooting network speed because it can extract the root cause of the slow network connection and alert the local administrator to take action.

The packet loss in transit, high latency, and jitter can lead to slow throughput speed.

The jitter measures the variation in the time between data packets when it arrives at the destination.

It can be affected because of congestion or route change of data packets. Jitter is measured in milliseconds (ms).

High latency depends on endpoint usage, and several people are using the network at the same time.

You can optimize throughput by minimizing network latency, addressing network bottlenecks, and monitoring endpoint usage.

Network bottlenecks are like traffic jams which increase network congestion and slow the performance of the network.

Further, you can improve throughput by upgrade your router, reducing the number of nodes in your network to shorten the distance travel by the packets and, in the end, reducing congestion.

Difference between bandwidth and latency

Bandwidth measures how much data can move over a given period of time (usually x bits per second), and latency measures the delay or lag in moving the data over a given period of time (measured in milliseconds).

In other words, bandwidth measures the size of the data that can be transferred from source to destination.

And latency measures the speed at which the data can be transferred from source to destination.

Bandwidth plays a crucial role when you want to move large files, and when you want those files to reach “on time,” then latency becomes vital.

Most applications such as machine data analytics, security analytics, or operational analytics require fast, secure, and reliable data access, requiring low latency to be functional.

Conversely, another business application such as backup and disaster recovery requires more data to be transferred over a period of time. Still, it doesn’t require strict high-performance and low latency functions.

How to fix low bandwidth or high latency?

If your network is not performing well because of low bandwidth or high latency, you have to do multiple testing before concluding it.

Run a speed test

Firstly, you have to run a speed test to know what is your downloading and uploading speed.

Moreover, you have to run multiple tests with an Ethernet wired and wireless connection and the device and without the device.

The wired connection provides you at least 80% of the download and upload speed advertised by your ISP.

Another important thing to note is the latency, which you will observe is described as “ping.”

The latency of less than 100 ms is fine, but if your activity involves streaming videos and playing online games, your latency should be less than 50 ms.

Internet throttling

You may face low bandwidth or high latency during the “rush hour” because everybody uses the internet simultaneously.

The cable modem internet connection users will also face low bandwidth or high latency because it shares bandwidth with every user in the network.

If the above two reasons are not the culprit, then Internet service providers (ISPs) may be throttling your internet speed. You can usually experience internet throttling when you are streaming videos or using VoIP.

Upgrade your router and modem

If your router and modem software are out of date, it means that it cannot handle the bandwidth supplied by your ISP.

You can either upgrade your devices or change to a new device that can support the bandwidth and reduce latency in such cases.

Change plan or service providers

If none of the above works, it is better to upgrade the plan or change service providers.

Moreover, upgrading your plan will increase your bandwidth from 25 Mbps to 50 Mbps, but change the providers if low latency is the cause.

However, changing from a DSL modem to a cable connection or a fiber-optic connection would reduce network latency.