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What is Network Bandwidth?

The digital age has led to an increased reliance on internet connectivity. Businesses, governments, and individuals depend on the Internet for various activities, necessitating a clear understanding of network performance metrics. At the heart of these metrics is the concept of network bandwidth.

What is Network Bandwidth?

Network Bandwidth or Bandwidth refers to the maximum volume of data or information that can be transmitted over your internet connection in a set period of time. When you look up bandwidth, you’ll see a lot of water and plumbing analogies. This is because it’s a good image to visualize what ‘bandwidth’ is. If you think of bandwidth as the size of your water pipe, this will help you understand how it relates to internet speed. The pipe size tells you the maximum amount of water that could flow through your pipe.

How does bandwidth work?

The more bandwidth a data connection has, the more data it can send and receive at one time. In concept, bandwidth can be compared to the volume of water that can flow through a pipe. The wider the pipe’s diameter, the more water can flow through it at one time. Bandwidth works on the same principle. The higher the capacity of the communication link, the more data can flow through it per second.

The cost of a network connection goes up as bandwidth increases. Thus, a 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) link will be more expensive than one that can handle 250 megabits per second (Mbps) of throughput.

network bandwidth

Why is Network Bandwidth important?

Network bandwidth is crucial in determining how quickly a web page loads in a browser. Bandwidth is basically the number of packets per second that a computer system can handle at one time. When a computer system sends a request to a server that contains application software, data, and other information, it consumes bandwidth.

Measuring Bandwidth

While bandwidth was once measured in bits per second (bps), modern network cables today have a significantly larger capacity, therefore bandwidth is now measured in megabits per second (Mbps) or gigabits per second (Gbps).

Bandwidth connections can be symmetrical, which means that the data capacity is the same in both directions (upload and download), or asymmetrical, which means that the data capacity is not the same in both directions (upload and download). In asymmetrical connections, which are common in consumer-grade internet broadband connections, upload capacity is frequently lower than download capacity. In enterprise-grade WAN and DIA lines, symmetrical bandwidth is more frequent.

Factors affecting network performance

The maximum capacity of a network connection is only one factor that affects network performance. Packet loss, latency, and jitter can all degrade network throughput and make a high-capacity link perform like one with less available bandwidth.

An end-to-end network path usually consists of multiple connections, each with a different bandwidth capacity. As a result, the link with the lowest bandwidth is often described as the bottleneck because it can limit the overall capacity of all connections in the path.

Many enterprise-grade networks are deployed with multiple aggregated links acting as a single logical connection. If, for example, a switch uplink uses four aggregated 1 Gbps connections, it has an effective throughput capacity of 4 Gbps. However, if two of those links were to fail, the bandwidth limit would drop to 2 Gbps.

How to increase Network Bandwidth

Network administrators often ponder upon one critical bandwidth management question: how do I increase network bandwidth?

While purchasing or planning for more bandwidth capacity is an obvious solution, it may increase the costs of maintaining a network. On the other hand, system administrators can analyze bandwidth utilization across an organization’s networks and discover optimization opportunities to increase utilization efficiency through various techniques.

Some network bandwidth optimization techniques include:

  • Streamlining data flows in the network by creating network subnets and strategically installing routers, switches, and modems.
  • Leveraging techniques such as traffic shaping, traffic policing, and load balancing to prioritize types of traffic and resources to decrease the possibility of network congestion and disruption to mission-critical applications and systems.
  • Creating and enforcing granular policies to define which websites, applications, and systems are accessible in the network and block access to non-business-related sites and portals.
  • Scheduling and managing software updates and backups in non-peak hours to avoid network congestion and productivity disruptions. For example, administrators can set up an upstream Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) server to download updates from the internet once and distribute updates to Windows machines in the network locally to avoid congesting available internet bandwidth.
  • Investing in a dedicated and highly capable bandwidth management solution to attain more granular control over bandwidth utilization and enforce policies more effectively.

Network administrators can also consider purchasing additional bandwidth capacity if all the possible opportunities to optimize the bandwidth are exhausted.

network bandwidth

Conclusion

Understanding network bandwidth is crucial for optimizing network performance. It is a key factor that influences the speed, efficiency, and reliability of data transfer over a network. While it is related to other network performance metrics like speed, latency, and throughput, it is a distinct concept that focuses on the maximum data transfer capacity. With adequate network bandwidth, businesses and individuals can ensure smooth and efficient internet usage, enabling them to harness the full potential of the digital age.

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