In conversation the other day a parent said, “I just don’t have the bandwidth for this teen drama today.” My nerdy mind immediately thought about 1’s and 0’s passing through space. Bandwidth is now a buzz word, according to the Urban Dictionary, for how well someone is able to complete a task or a measurement of mental agility.
However, in my world bandwidth is about the Internet, and how effectively my business can operate. By definition, bandwidth is a range of frequencies within a given band, which is used for transmitting a signal. Speed and bandwidth are often confused or used interchangeably. They are not the same. Let’s think of speed and bandwidth like a straw in your favorite milkshake. You can drink your milkshake with quick pulls on the straw or slower pulls, this affects the speed that you enjoy your milkshake. But have you ever gotten a thick, yummy milkshake, but the straw was so small that you had to stir your milkshake around and let it melt before you can get any milkshake via the straw? Ugh! So frustrating! So, speed is how quickly the yumminess can move through the straw, but the bandwidth refers to the quantity of the yumminess that moves through the straw during a set time.
The bandwidth for your business can be thought of like the electricity coming into your office building. The refrigerator or furnace in the building will always pull a little bit of electricity, so there’s always a little bit of ‘bandwidth’ flowing though the office. But when you and your staff come in on Monday morning, they turn on the lights and their computers. You might have a stereo that you turn on, or ‘Sally in Accounting” turns on her personal heater under her desk. Each of these items that get turned on, will draw electricity, and thus divides the “bandwidth”. Normally the electricity coming into the building allows all of this to happen without you seeing any affect of making your mid-afternoon popcorn snack in the microwave. Now, your co-workers might complain when you burn it, but it won’t cause the radio to go off or their computer to suddenly reboot. But occasionally, the company’s chili cookout with 10 crockpots plugged in, will cause you to “trip a breaker”. This is when the wiring can’t keep up with the pull of electricity needed. Another way to say this is, the range of frequencies within a given band can’t keep up. Sound familiar? Yep! That’s the definition of bandwidth.
Within my business, there are several factors that affect the bandwidth. The VPN (if you’re not using one, check out our blog) keeps me secure, but it affects my bandwidth and speed. Every employee adds to the bandwidth need, not only with the applications they need to work, but streaming music while they work. These will divide your bandwidth and speed. If you work from home, add in game consoles, Netflix, and Zoom meetings. Suddenly the bandwidth “pie” is being cut into very thin slices.
Let’s look at some outside sources that also affects your bandwidth and speed:
- Your location can affect your available bandwidth. Remember how in previous blogs, we talk about the Internet is like our road systems. You get onto the Internet by backing out of your driveway into a street. Then that street merges onto a state highway, then moved to an Interstate. Each allows more lanes and a faster speed limit. When you live out in the country, you might travel more on little 2 lane roads; heck, I know areas here in Indiana that has 1 lane bridges still. These areas have lower bandwidth and speed because the wiring delivering the service to the area is outdated or weaker.
Some ISPs bring in a big pipe for a neighborhood and then run lines to each of the houses (technical term “endpoints”) that need it. The entire neighborhood shares a single pipe; the problem with this is like a garden hose with a water sprinkler. If you have a water hose with a water trigger, it can shoot water many feet up in the air and can cover a pretty big area. But if you put 4-8 sprinklers on that same hose, you would notice a dramatic difference how the water is coming out – it goes a shorter distance, and the pressure is smaller. Have you ever been on the Internet, maybe working at home, and you hear a bus go past bringing the kids home, and suddenly your internet is crawling? Using my neighborhood, for example…suddenly 300 house that were using mostly the minimum bandwidth, all turns on. The kids are watching YouTube, turning on their game console, and maybe even doing homework! That is a shared Internet backbone.
- Physical devices can affect your available bandwidth. You have a modem, router, or wireless receiver of some type to allow you to access the Internet. Each of these devices are built with capability limits. It’s like your favorite pants…when they are sown together, they are made for a certain size. If your body got smaller, the pants will still “work” (maybe add a belt so we don’t see your crack), but if your body gets bigger, those jeans can’t “grow” with you. They might work for a bit, but at some point, you’re risking the seam ripping out!
- Your carrier controls your bandwidth. Your Internet Service Provider can also set maximum bandwidth. In some cases, you can just request this to be changed. The ISP will increase speed and bandwidth together, you can’t have one without the other. There is always a cost involved.
Ok, I think it’s time for me to go get a milkshake, but if you have any questions, give us a call and we would be happy to answer your questions. If you have topics, you would like me to cover in future blogs, please comment or send me an email.