Have you ever experienced a slow Internet connection when your kids are gaming or watching Netflix in the other room? You can only fit so much data through the pipe. The more crowded your data pipe is, the more delay you will experience while browsing the Internet.
Since you are the king of your castle (a.k.a. network administrator), your job is to determine who or what is hogging the bandwidth and decreasing performance for everyone else in your network.
One of the most misunderstood concepts in networking is speed and capacity. Many people believe that speed and capacity is the same thing. When you hear someone say “My Internet speed is 30 Mbps” or something similar, what they are actually referring to is the bandwidth capacity of their Internet service, not the speed. The speed of a network is actually the result of bandwidth and latency.
What is bandwidth?
Bandwidth refers to how wide the data pipe is, not how fast the data is transferred. The transfer rate is measured in latency. And latency means “delay.” So speed and bandwidth work together.
The wider the pipe is, the less delay you’ll experience when loading webpages and transferring files. This is one reason you don’t want people using your WiFi without your knowledge. People who hack your WiFi just for free Internet also consume your bandwidth. In some cases, this can become very costly. With Tomato firmware, it’s easy to monitor your bandwidth. And if necessary, use a MAC address filter to slow down those unwanted freeloaders.
What is Latency?
Latency (pronounced: la·ten·cy) is the amount of time it takes a data packet to travel from point A to point B. Together, bandwidth and latency define the speed and capacity of a network. Latency is usually expressed in milliseconds and can be measured using a ping command from your computer.
When you run a ping command, a small packet of data (usually 32 bytes), is sent to another machine whereby the round-trip-time is measured in milliseconds. The ping command measures how long it takes for the data packet to leave the source computer, travel to the destination computer, and return back to the source computer.
Bandwidth is expressed in bits per second. It refers to the amount of data that can be transferred during one second. Obviously, the wider the pipe, the more bits can be transferred per second. And if your bandwidth is congested, your latency (delay) is increased.
Think of it like a crowded highway. The more vehicles there are on the highway, the more congested the traffic will be. As a result, everyone is forced to drive slower. Thankfully, Tomato firmware has a nifty feature that will give you more control over bandwidth.
Streaming vs. Downloading
Streaming and downloading is essentially the same thing as far as bandwidth is concerned. The only difference between streaming and downloading is this:
- Downloading, you can’t watch a video until it’s done downloading.
- Streaming is still downloading, but you are able to watch it while it’s being downloaded.
Youtube uses streaming. As you watch the video, you can still see the progress bar moving in the video player. But as soon as the progress bar fills up, the video is fully downloaded and you can skip forward or backward to view any place in the video.
Most ISP’s have data limitations which cap the total monthly bandwidth allowance. For example, in my area, these are the monthly bandwidth allotments from the big players:
- AT&T U-Verse = 250 GB month
- Comcast Internet = 300 GB month
- Comcast commercial accounts = unlimited
Downloading large files will eat up your bandwidth fast. If you stream videos from the Internet, (Netflix.com, for example) you can log into your NetFlix account and change the video quality to consume less bandwidth. Currently, there are three settings. The middle setting should provide sufficient quality and decrease your bandwidth consumption substantially. This not only helps to conserve the monthly bandwidth allowance from your ISP, but it also reduces the overhead across your LAN.
If you don’t like the monthly limitation, you may need to get a commercial business account from your ISP. Unlike residential service, commercial accounts don’t usually have monthly bandwidth limitations. Some people get commercial accounts and share it with a few neighbors to offset their costs. I’m not saying that I do that. I’m just saying that you have options. 🙂
TIP: Commercial accounts usually employ 2 or 3 year contract agreements so ask about this before signing or verbally agreeing to anything.
So why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this because your bandwidth consumption may not seem like an immediate concern at the moment. But when you start using your network for more advanced things, you may need to decrease waste in some areas to enjoy convenience in other areas. Most of you will never reach your maximum monthly bandwidth allowance. But once you see what you can do with your network, you might be tempted to push the limits.