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Bits and bytes: know the difference

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Knowing your bits from your bytes is useful for picking out a good broadband provider – here’s the important info.

In the digital age, we're constantly bombarded with terms like megabits and megabytes. But what exactly are bits and bytes? How do they affect your internet experience, and why should you care? Let's dive into the world of digital measurements to unravel the mystery of bits and bytes and how they relate to your broadband speeds.

What are bits and bytes?

When we talk about digital data, two terms frequently come up: bits and bytes. But what are they? Simply put, they are the fundamental units of measurement in the digital world, but they serve different purposes and are not to be confused with one another.

  • Bits are typically used to measure connection speed in megabits (Mb)
  • Bytes, on the other hand, are used for measuring the size of data, like the files you download or the videos you stream, in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB)

The differences between bits and bytes

Though they sound similar, bits and bytes are quite different in size. A byte is eight times larger than a bit, which is a significant difference when you're dealing with large amounts of data.

  • One byte is made up of eight bits of data
  • Consequently, a megabyte (MB) is eight times larger than a megabit (Mb), and this pattern holds true as you go up the scale with larger units of measurement

Representing bits and bytes

How we write bits and bytes also differs, which is crucial for understanding what you're looking at when dealing with digital data.

  • Bits are denoted with a lowercase 'b', as in megabit (Mb)
  • Bytes are represented with an uppercase 'B', like in megabyte (MB)
Bits and bytes explained

Bits, bytes, and broadband

Understanding the difference between bits and bytes is essential when estimating how long it will take to download a file based on your broadband speed. It's a key factor in determining the right broadband package for your needs.

Let's say you want to download a 150 megabyte (MB) file. If your connection speed is 25 megabits per second (Mbps), how long will it take?

  • 150 megabits (Mb) would transfer in about six seconds
  • However, 150 megabytes (MB) would take roughly eight times longer, or about 48 seconds to download

Broadband speed variability

It's important to remember that connection speeds can vary, and many factors can interfere with the performance of your broadband. The actual speed you experience can be affected by network congestion, the quality of your lines, and even the layout of your home.

However connection speeds aren’t always perfect, and there are a number of things that can interfere with your broadband - learn more with our guide to broadband speed.

Broadband deals and speeds: What should I look for?

Broadband speeds are advertised in bits per second (bps), which indicates how many bits of data can be downloaded every second.

  • Speeds are typically measured in megabits per second (Mbps) or gigabits per second (Gbps)
  • To put it into perspective, one bit (1b) is equivalent to eight bytes (8B), meaning a 10Mbps connection would take about eight seconds to download a 10MB file

Understanding advertised broadband speeds

Ofcom's advertising rules require providers to advertise the average speed for at least 50% of users, which helps consumers get a better idea of what they're signing up for.

  • A "76Mbps" package means that at least half of the users can achieve 76 megabits per second on average
  • Some providers may also guarantee a minimum speed, such as 50Mbps for a particular package

Read more about what broadband speeds mean here. And see what speed you're getting right now with our broadband speed test.

Download vs. upload speeds

It's also worth noting that download and upload speeds are not the same. Upload speeds, which refer to how quickly you can send data to the internet, are typically lower than download speeds.

So what are KB, MB, GB, and TB?

With the vast amount of data we use today, larger units of data measurement are necessary.

  • Kilobytes (KB), megabytes (MB), gigabytes (GB), and terabytes (TB) are used to measure larger data sizes
  • For broadband speed measurements, we use kilobits (Kb), megabits (Mb), and gigabits (Gb), with each successive unit being 1,024 times larger than the one before it

KB, MB, GB, and TB are typically used when referring to file sizes and storage capacity, while broadband speeds are measured in Mb and Gb.

Comparing broadband packages

Finding a good deal for broadband is easy if you compare broadband quotes on MoneySuperMarket, where you can find deals that offer your ideal connection speed at the best possible price. All you need to do is enter your postcode for an accurate list of deals and providers in your area, and you’ll be given a list of deals close to you.

Then you can compare them by their monthly cost as well as any set up costs involved, the average speed you’ll get, any limits on downloads, and whether or not they include additional offers like vouchers. You can save deals you like the look of, and once you’re ready to pick you’ll be on your way to better broadband.

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