Two of the most confusing words in internet terminology are bandwidth and throughput. Some people will tell you that it’s a potato/potahto kind of situation - two different ways of saying the same thing. In fact, these words are even used interchangeably by some internet service providers which can make it easy to get confused at the user level as well.
We figured it’s time to set the record straight.
Picture a typical New York City sidewalk. Let’s say that the average width of a sidewalk is equivalent to about 5 people walking shoulder-to-shoulder. That's the bandwidth of the sidewalk - the maximum amount of people that can travel simultaneously along the sidewalk. The same concept applies when talking about you internet's bandwidth. It's the maximum amount of data that can travel from one location to another per second.
So what happens if there are only 3 people walking together on the sidewalk? Does the sidewalk become smaller, shrinking to accommodate fewer travelers? No way! The sidewalk, or bandwidth, always stays the same even if the number of people traveling on the sidewalk changes.
That’s where throughput comes in! Throughput is how much data per second is actually traveling from one location to another per second. In this case, the number of people on the sidewalk would be the throughout.
So what determines throughput? It can fluctuate depending on a range of different factors, but one of the biggest culprits would be the processing capability of devices on either end or in-between destinations.
For example, if someone is sending you data at 100 Mbps and your computer can only process the data at 50 Mbps then the throughput will only be 50 Mbps. Just like getting stuck behind slow tourists walking down 5th Ave, sometimes there’s no easy way to get around limited hardware throughput.
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