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Megabytes vs Megabits: Why your download speed is slower than your ISP says?

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Megabytes vs Megabits: Why your download speed is slower than your ISP says?

While your ISP might have other internet issues as well, bits vs bytes is still a big confusion. ISP could have issues too but this confusion can lead to frustration seeing 8 times lesser speed while downloading than the provider claims while there’s no issue at all.

What is the Megabytes vs Megabits problem?

Historically and the way networking works, the travel of packets through any medium (wired: fiber, twisted pair; wireless: air), the network speed has always been measured in bits. The bandwidth kept increasing and we used kilobits (1000 bits), megabits (1000 kilobits) like units.

While the ISPs kept selling the bandwidth in bits, the file sizes were always measured in bytes (historically). The confusion started when we started downloading files in bytes from internet plan in bits.

Are you a little lost? Don’t worry we’re going to cover in detail. You don’t have to suck when you change internet plan next time.

As you know the internet plans look like one below.

The plan offered 60Mbps is a 60 “megabits per second” speed. Do not confuse with “megabytes per second”. The megabytes per second is abbreviated as MBps. Did you notice that “B” on bytes and “b” on bits? The capitalization is not the only difference. You won’t be able to download 6MB, which is 60 megabytes, in a second with this plan.

What you really get?

If you can’t download 60MB in a second with 60Mbps internet, something must be wrong, right? Well, yes, your understanding in incorrect.

Bits and bytes are comparable. Mathematically, 8 bits form a byte. Same goes with the megabyte vs megabits.

1 megabyte is 8 megabits

60 megabytes is 480 megabits.

You need a 480 megabits internet speed to download 60 megabytes in a second.

Similarly, 60 megabits equal 7.5megabytes. With the above plan, you can only be able to download up to 7.5 megabytes file in a second.

Divide your internet plan’s speed by 8 and you’ll get an answer to how many megabytes of the file can be download per second on that connection.

Yes, a megabyte is 8 times greater than a bit.

Why can’t it be consistent?

With the megabyte vs megabytes confusion, you might be thinking why ISPs doesn’t sell in bytes or why files are not in bits.

Impressive question, but it’s invalid from a technical point of view. as stated in the beginning of the post it’s how they were defined and that’s how every standard was developed then.

On the other hand, ISPs could make it easier for users to how much of file can they download because we need to download files on the internet than deal with bits. They could do this but it’d hurt their marketing. Would you get a 10mBps internet or 80mbps internet? The later one would sell more because not everyone is able to differentiate that “B” with “b”. It saves them from extra effort required for an explanation while their competitors provide the same service.

From the historical point, we’ve been measuring network activity in bits since the first modems were invented over half a century ago! Back then we weren’t concerned about downloading huge files or stream but just communication, bit by bit. It became the standard and it has been used.

For the practical calculation, divide your internet speed by 10 to measure in bytes per second. The internet speed is affected by a lot of factors and using 10 instead of 8 gives a good practical estimation of how much should be the speed.

You must have understood the megabits vs megabytes thing by now. Put your confusions in the comment box below.

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