Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bits and Bytes: Know the Difference!

Bits and bytes are terms that are often used interchangeably but are grossly misunderstood. Most people are guilty of this without even knowing. An internet provider might advertise speeds of 7Mbps and someone is like, whoa, that's fast! But in actuality they are getting about 1MBps tops. Notice the difference there? No it's not a typo. The lowercase 'b' denotes bits, but the uppercase 'B' denotes bytes. This is often a way the internet providers make it look like they offer fast speeds, because bits are smaller than bytes.

Read for more detail...

A bit represents a single binary digit, which is either a 0 or 1. A string of eight bits is known as a byte. Raw binary code can look something like this:

01100110 10001110 11000111 00000011 10001110 01110001

In this string, there is 48 bits, but only 6 bytes.

In the tech world, when speaking about data transfer rates we often talk about speed per second in terms of bits. So kilobits/per second translates into Kbps, megabits/per second translates into Mbps, and so on. When referring to storage, we talk about bytes. So a five-hundred gigabyte hard drive has 500GB. Data transfer in kilobytes or megabytes would be KBps and MBps respectively.

So what are internet companies doing here? Well, they aren't really cheating, but they don't make the terminology explicit. If your internet provider has promised you 7Mbps (megabits per second), you are actually getting 875KBps (kilobytes per second).*

Here are the conversions:
1 Kilobit = 125 bytes
1 Megabit = 125 kilobytes
1 Gigabit = 125 megabytes

This gets confusing when trying to figure out data caps. Your smartphone plan might have 2GB, but try to make the conversion to how much you are using when data transfer is measured in bits. It can become misleading and often leads users to both overestimate and underestimate their total usage. Luckily, there is an app for that.
*Note: There are many other factors that determine internet speeds. It is always rare to get speeds as advertised because there are often not only long distances for data to travel to your computer, but many pieces of hardware that must process it (not to mention other people's requested data!). The network that makes up the internet in immense and power hungry.

No comments:

Post a Comment