Network Speed vs. Bandwidth: What’s the Difference?

In the world of networking, two terms frequently come up: network speed and bandwidth. 

While often used interchangeably, they are not one and the same. Each measures different aspects of network performance.

When evaluating your organization’s connectivity needs, it’s vital that you know the difference between network speed vs. bandwidth. 

Below, we’ll explore these essential performance monitoring metrics so that you can better understand how they impact the velocity and efficiency of your data operations. 


What is Network Speed?

Network speed refers to the rate at which data gets transferred from the internet to your device or vice versa. 

It describes how fast data packets are moving across your digital infrastructure. You measure this performance indicator using megabits per second (Mbps). 

Many factors can impact your data velocity, including the type of connection you have, the amount of traffic, and the performance of your internet service provider (ISP). 

Think of this metric as the velocity of a car on a highway. The faster the car, the less time it takes it to reach its destination. 

That same concept applies to network speed. Much like the car cruising down the highway, data needs to travel at a high velocity to reach its destination efficiently. 

The faster data moves, the less time it takes to exchange information, such as loading a web page, streaming a video, or downloading a file. However, speed alone does not guarantee efficiency and good performance. 

For example, a sports car might be capable of traveling well over 100 MPH. But what happens if the road it’s on becomes congested with other traffic? That’s where bandwidth comes into play. 


What is Bandwidth?

Bandwidth refers to your internet connection’s maximum capacity to transfer data in a given amount of time, also measured in Mbps.

It determines the volume of throughput and of information that can be sent or received, similar to the number of lanes on a highway. A wider highway can accommodate more cars (data packets), reducing congestion and improving overall flow.

Let’s consider a real-world example that applies to your business. If you’ve only got a team of five employees, all of whom perform tasks like downloading files, browsing web pages, and using cloud-based business software, you probably don’t need that much bandwidth. However, if you have a team of 25 employees, you’ll need more of it (lanes) to send and receive data. 

You need both network speed and bandwidth to run your business effectively. The latter affects how efficiently you can transfer data from device to device, especially with multiple devices running simultaneously. 

Higher capacity means more data can move at once, leading to better performance for all users on your digital infrastructure. 


What About Latency?

Industry experts commonly use water to explain the relationship between latency, bandwidth, and network speed. We’ll do the same here, using an analogy of a waterpark. 

Imagine that you’re preparing to go down a waterslide. Three factors impact how much fun you’ll have: the width of the water slide, how fast you are moving, and how long it takes to get from the top to the bottom. 

Bandwidth could be compared to the width of the water slide. The wider the slide and the more lanes it has, the more people can go down at the same time. 

More width also translates to shorter weight times. When you have more capacity, a greater number of people can do things online simultaneously, like browsing websites and running reports on your cloud-based app.

In the slide analogy, speed will be impacted by factors like the steepness of the slide and the momentum of the user. Within a single-user scenario, network speed refers to how quickly you can send and receive data. 

Latency, by contrast, refers to time, specifically the delay before the action starts. For the internet, latency reveals the time it takes for a piece of data to get from its source to its destination. Lower latency means less wait time, so your video call feels more immediate and responsive.

If you want to support the needs of a large number of employees carrying out dynamic internet-based tasks, you need adequate capacity, minimal latency, and high speeds. 


How Do Bandwidth and Network Speed Differ?

While bandwidth and network speed are related, they’re not the same thing. Bandwidth acts as the capacity of your infrastructure, while speed refers to how fast the data travels within that capacity. 

Using the highway analogy, bandwidth compares the number of lanes available, and velocity refers to how fast cars travel on those lanes. 

You could have a high-capacity connection, which means a lot of data can move simultaneously. However, if information moves slowly, data packets will still take longer to reach their destination (meaning higher latency). 

Conversely, fast-moving data with low capacity can lead to congestion and slowdowns. This is especially likely in times when multiple devices or applications must compete for digital resources.

In the network speed vs. bandwidth debate, which has more impact on your business? That largely depends on the size and complexity of your organization. However, you cannot neglect one over the other, as the two variables are interconnected.

You need to invest in capacity and network speed resources that align with the demands of your business. If your team grows, you’ll need more bandwidth. 

You might adopt more sophisticated technologies, like a cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or customer relationship management (CRM) application. When you do, you’ll need to up your network speed, too. 


Why is There Confusion Between Network Speed and Bandwidth? 

You’ve undoubtedly heard the terms network speed and bandwidth used interchangeably. Why all the confusion? Internet service providers, particularly those who deliver home internet services, are largely to blame. 

ISP advertisements boast “faster browsing speeds” when, in reality, they mean bandwidth. They offer better bandwidth than their competitors (or claim to), which allows users to run more devices simultaneously without negatively impacting performance.

Unfortunately, some business ISPs fail to differentiate between the two as well. This can make it difficult to determine what quality of service you are actually getting as part of your ISP agreement. 

Why Are Bandwidth and Network Speed Important?

Why does everyone make such a big deal about bandwidth and network speed? It’s because they have a huge impact on the success and digital agility of your business. 

If you are lagging behind in these two metrics, your company will struggle to carry out basic digital tasks, such as scheduling meetings, sending files, or running software. 

Like most professionals, you probably start your day by checking emails and logging into your go-to applications, such as a CRM or ERP. 

If your internet connection becomes laggy or unreliable, your work day is going to have a bumpy start. On the flip side, prioritizing connectivity, capacity, and velocity can help your business reap benefits like:


Better Video Quality 

As you can send and receive data at a greater velocity and volume, you’ll be able to engage in high-definition video streaming with minimal buffering or delays. You can use these capabilities to host video conferences, watch training content, and stay connected with your remote team. 


Higher Efficiency 

When you have poor connectivity, your team will face constant delays. They’ll have to wait around for files to download, perform repeat work because documents didn’t save or update properly, and face constant frustrations due to application errors. 

A better digital infrastructure will eliminate these headaches and promote better work efficiency. 


The Ability to Support Bigger Teams

Imagine trying to send a fleet of semi-trucks down a one-lane dirt road. That’s what it’s like to run a growing team with too little bandwidth. 

As your team grows, you need to upgrade your internet capabilities to accommodate their demand for fast, reliable internet connectivity. 


Less Latency

The faster your network, the lower the latency. This means that the response time from clicking on a link to seeing a web page load gets minimized. 

While shaving a few milliseconds off load times may not seem like a big deal, all those fractions of a second will add up to some major efficiency gains over the course of a work week. 



Upgrading your network will help future-proof your business. You’ll have the digital infrastructure necessary to adopt new tech tools and software, thereby paving the way for the growth of your company. 


Get More Advice on Network Speed and Bandwidth 

Optimizing your network’s speed and bandwidth can be the key to achieving the best possible internet performance. 

If you’d like to learn more about the subtle differences between network speed vs. bandwidth, contact TRG Datacenters and let us help. 

We’ll provide actionable insights that inform your decision-making and ensure you’ve got adequate connectivity to support your business needs.