Bandwidth vs Latency: What’s the Difference?

Terms like bandwidth and latency are often thrown around in discussions about website speeds, yet relatively few of us understand what these words really mean – and why they matter so much to businesses. 

If you’re looking to reduce the speed of your site and improve the user experience you’re able to offer (and let’s face it – who isn’t!), you’ll need to know about bandwidth and latency. Both bandwidth and latency have a huge bearing on what your network is really capable of. Once you know what they are, how they work and why they differ, you’ll soon see why. 

Read on and we’ll explain more about what we mean when we talk about bandwidth and latency, and why they’re so important to your website. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact our team. We’re here to help explain the jargon, equipping you with all the tools you need to provide an unforgettable experience to your customers. 

What Does Bandwidth Mean? 

Simply put, bandwidth is a term used to describe the transfer speed of data. Measured in Mbps (megabits per second) or Gbps (gigabits per second) it’s a particular rate indicating how much data can be transferred over a set period. We usually see the rate measured over a period of one second, and the result will be a certain number of megabits or gigabits, depending on how fast the data transfer is. 

The history of the term bandwidth is interesting. The word actually derives from something which used to dictate how fast data could travel – and that was the width of a communication band. In the past, the width of this band would determine the upper limit of transfer speed, and thus the term ‘bandwidth’ was born. To this day, it’s still used to talk about how data is transferred. 

What Does The Term Latency Mean? 

When we talk about latency, we’re referring to the period of time that it takes for data to move from the point at which it originates, to its final destination. Latency is another factor that has a huge bearing on how fast a website is, yet it’s actually mentioned far less than bandwidth.

The time that this journey takes depends on the distance that data needs to travel, and in this case we’re actually talking about physical distance. Data needs to move through all kinds of different cords and networks to get where it needs to be. The time it takes to go from point A to point B is governed by latency. 

When we hear of latency, we’re often describing a problem that is hampering a user’s experience. Often, we’ll use the term latency to explain that an action is taking longer than we would like, and thus data is taking too long to complete its journey. Latency is something that we’re always seeking to reduce, in order to improve a site and optimise the user experience. 

There are of course many different factors that will affect latency, several of which may limit how far latency can be reduced. However, if decreasing latency is a key goal of your business, it’s well worth exploring the options available to you to find out how this can be done. Often, there are simple changes that can be made which will make a huge difference to the experience of the end user, so we always recommend doing your research and talking to the experts to find out what you can do to optimise your site. 

How Do Bandwidth and Latency Differ? 

Bandwidth and latency both have an impact on the speed of a network, but for different reasons. While a high bandwidth will mean a network is potentially capable of fast data transfer speeds, latency can still throw a spanner in the works – no matter how high the bandwidth is. 

Bandwidth remains an important factor in determining the speed of connections, and of course it’s still key to web transfer speeds. However, connection speed isn’t controlled by bandwidth alone. There are several other factors that can have a real impact on how fast data can be transferred. 

The amount of data that can be moved is controlled by bandwidth. But the speed it takes for that data to go from one place to another is determined by latency. So, as you can imagine, both must be optimised to provide the best possible experience for the end user. 

In the not too distant past, developers only really worried about bandwidth when they considered speed. But things have changed in recent years, and that’s largely down to improvements in our internet connections at home. 

Bandwidth has been rising steadily over the years, and therefore hasn’t been quite as limiting in terms of speed as it once had been. But of course latency also has a role to play in how fast data can be transferred. With bandwidth on the rise, latency has become ever more pivotal in deciding how fast data can really move. 

Latency is a key determining factor in the speed of many sites now. Because latency is determined by a physical distance, it will of course limit what is possible in terms of data transfer. So, it’s vital that businesses understand latency and know why it matters as much as bandwidth. Think about how latency can be reduced and you’ll be well on your way to providing a better experience for your customers. 

Talk to Our Team to Learn More 

Reducing latency isn’t always an easy task. Businesses often struggle with the logistics of this operation, particularly if latency has been causing an issue for some time. However, there are always things that you can do to reduce latency and increase bandwidth, in order to speed up your site and allow your business to flourish. 

If you need any help with your site, or you’d like to enhance the capabilities of your existing network, get in touch with our team. We’re always on hand to provide expert advice and guidance, and we might just have the answer to your problem. Give us a call to find out more. 

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