Megabits per second, or Mbps, is a unit of measure that can be used to describe how quickly data is being transferred when a file is downloaded or uploaded.
In telecommunications, the rate at which data can be transferred is measured in bits. One megabit is equal to one million bits. So a data transfer rate of one Mbps, sometimes expressed as one Mb/sec, will transfer one million bits of data every second.
Internet connections are typically priced and purchased based on the maximum data transfer rate. Typical data transfer rates for different types of Internet connections include:
- Dial-Up Access: Most dial-up connections are made with a 56k modem which is capable of transfering 56 kilobits per second (Kbps) which is equivalent to 0.056 Mbps or 56,000 bits per second (bps).
- Digital Subscriber Line (DSL): Originally, DSL was only capable of data transfer rates ranging from 128 Kbps up to 3 Mbps. However, more recently, upgraded DSL technologies have boosted DSL speeds up to as much as 52 Mbps or even faster.
- Cable Internet: Cable Internet is typically the fastest option available to residential customers. Data transfer rates of 50 Mbps are common, 100 Mbps connections are available in most areas, and speeds can reach as high as 250 Mbps or even higher depending on the geographic location of the Internet user and available infrastructure.
- Mobile Broadband: Most consumers in developed markets now also have Internet access via mobile devices such as smartphones. While data tranfer rates vary greatly depending on the network, network traffic, location, and device, download rates between 10 and 20 Mbps are common.
Frequently Asked Questions
What's the difference between Mbps and MBps?
Both Mbps and MBps are measures of data used in computer systems. Mbps stands for megabits per second, and MBps stands for megabytes per second. Since a single byte is composed of eight bits, a megabyte is composed of eight megabits or eight million bits. While data transfer rates are typically measured in bits, things like the size of a hard drive or the amount of random access memory installed in a computer are usually measured in bytes.
How many Mbps do I need to have a good Internet connection?
The Internet connection speed you will need depends on a variety of factors including the number of devices that will be used simultaneously, and the sort of services you plan to use. For most consumers, any connection that is 5 Mbps of faster will be adequate for households with a single user, but consider a faster speed such as 25 Mbps if you anticipate multiple users performing high-bandwidth tasks (such as streaming video) simultaneously. If you need a connection faster than 25 Mbps it's likely you already know it.
Why doesn't a 50 Mbps connection always provide 50 Mbps download speed?
All Internet connections are priced and sold offering “up to” a certain speed. So a 50 Mbps connection would typically be referred to as “up to 50 Mbps”. The reason for this is that the actual speed you see will be influenced by a variety of factors such as the physical cabling and hardware between your home and the ISP, as well as the amount of traffic on the network at any given time.
Is a 50 Mbps connection capable of both downloading and uploading at the same speed?
Virtually all Internet connections are sold with a download speed that is faster than the upload speed. For example, a typical residential cable Internet connection might offer a 50 Mbps download rate and a 10 Mbps upload rate – such a connection would be informally referred to as “50 down and 10 up”. If you know you will be doing a lot of uploading, for example, if you are a freelance web developer, photographer, designer, videographer, or musician, be sure to check the upload rate of a connection you are considering in addition to the download rate.