Bandying about bandwidth

Random Errors

By Jeremy Smith
Sun Star Columnist

Continuing with the questions from last week, we have one from a reader who purchased an internet package with a speed of “8 mbps/768 kbps” and “25,000 MB usage.” He wanted to know what all that means in terms of speed when downloading.

The first number, 8 mbps, is the download speed. The second, 768 kbps, is the upload. The 25,000 MB usage is how much data can be downloaded before you have to start paying overage fees.

Internet connection speeds are measured in megabits per second (mbps). This is different from the usage number, which is measured in megabytes (MBs). There is a whole “a bit is a string of data” explanation that I’m not going to go into because all of you know how to use Wikipedia, but I will tell you that even though they both have “mega” in front of their names, that doesn’t mean the numbers are interchangeable.

To solve the download speed question, it’s easiest to think of it like a math problem: if you want to download a song that is 5 megabytes and a movie that is 900 megabytes, how long will that take on an 8 mbps connection? After doing some bit to byte conversion math, I can tell you that an 8 mbps connection allows you to download at a speed of 1 MB per second, give or take some hundredths based on network congestion. In this scenario, it would take five seconds to download the song and 15 minutes to download the movie. That’s a download speed of 1 megabyte per second.

The real concern is that last number, the 25,000 MB (a.k.a. 25 gigabytes – GBs). Cable Internet provider GCI recently announced that they are doing away with their unlimited plans and creating limited pies of usage. I know this first-hand because I was recently hit with a $100 overage fee for exceeding my usage amount. Granted, 25 gigabytes is a lot of emails and YouTube videos of dancing cats, but with everything moving more toward “cloud” (online) distribution, this can disappear fast.

DVD powerhouse Netflix streams HD video at around 5 mbps. That means the 100 streaming minutes of cult western Django has consumed about 1,000 megabytes. A TV episode from Hulu streams around 700 kbps, so those 43 minutes of Castle cuts off a 240-megabyte slice. An hour on Skype can sneak a 100-megabyte bite. Figure in game downloads for your PC or console along with music and TV shows for your iPod and you may have eaten through your 25 gigabytes of data well before your month is up… and this is just looking at the media piece of the online pie.

What this means is you have to start thinking before you download. Having had unlimited downloads, I previously clicked with wanton abandon. But this mentality won’t work anymore, at least with GCI, especially when you start being hit with overage bills. You might want to begin by asking yourself if you really do need the first three seasons of Dexter in 1080p. Since my answer is yes, I guess I’ll just give up e-mail.

Jeremy talks and takes on technology at

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