Bandwidth and throughput are two network performance-related terms. However, the relationship between bandwidth and throughput is more analogous to that of siblings than twins: They are similar, but not identical.
Both bandwidth and throughput relate to network data. Bandwidth defines the maximum amount of data that can travel through a network in a given period of time. Network throughput is the amount of data that is transferred in a given time period. Sometimes, bandwidth and throughput are confused with latency, which refers to the speed at which data travels from the source to the destination across the network.
What is network bandwidth?
When considering bandwidth, capacity is the key term. Bandwidth is the maximum amount of data that could theoretically travel from one network node to another in a given amount of time.
Bandwidth is a finite asset. Networks can only handle a certain amount of bandwidth depending on their capacity, and some devices consume more bandwidth than others. Inadequate bandwidth can result in network congestion, which can slow connectivity. By calculating the bandwidth needs of devices and adjusting bandwidth allocation as necessary, network professionals can account for these factors.
These are the bandwidth measurement units: bit, kilobit, megabit (Mb), and gigabit (Gb) (Gb). Consider a network with a bandwidth of 1 Gb per second (Gbps). In an ideal situation, 1 Gb is the maximum amount of data that could travel between links in one second. However, the majority of networks operate in less-than-ideal conditions.
Networks occasionally experience slow connectivity, limited range, outages, and other performance-degrading issues. In these circumstances, a data packet takes longer to traverse the network.
What is network throughput?
When considering throughput, the key word is quantity. Throughput refers to the amount of data that is transmitted and processed across a network. If bandwidth describes the theoretical, then throughput describes the empirical, and the numbers associated with each metric are typically different.
Because networks frequently experience performance-impairing issues, throughput frequently differs from the maximum network bandwidth. Throughput represents the data transfer rate and reflects the actual performance of the network. If the network is not operating at its maximum performance, the throughput is less than the bandwidth.
The same bitrate units are used to measure throughput and bandwidth. A network with a bandwidth of 1 Gbps is capable of handling 1 Gbps of data. However, depending on the conditions, its throughput could be reduced to 500 Mbps, with the network processing only half of its capacity.
Where does latency fit with bandwidth and throughput?
Bandwidth and throughput are frequently used to describe network speed, but network speed is primarily determined by latency. Latency is the time it takes for a data packet to travel from the sender to the receiver across a network.
Sometimes, latency is measured as round-trip time, which includes the time it takes for a packet to travel from its origin point to its destination point and back again. If the latency is low, this indicates a delay, also referred to as lag.
Network professionals use both bandwidth and latency to analyze network performance, despite the fact that they do not necessarily interact. In high-bandwidth networks, latency issues are frequently more evident. For instance, if a network has 1 Gbps of bandwidth but it takes 2 seconds for 1 Gb to travel between links, a network professional can determine that the network performance is inadequate due to low latency.
On the other hand, throughput and latency have an inversely proportional relationship. High-throughput networks transmit a large amount of data between links, indicating that the networks have low latency or little lag that affects their speed. Low-throughput networks have less data traveling and being processed between links, indicating that they may have high latency, which causes a delay in the time it takes for data to reach its destination.
Why are network bandwidth and throughput important?
Bandwidth, throughput, and latency are crucial metrics used by network professionals to monitor network performance. By measuring bandwidth, network professionals can determine the capabilities of their networks. Throughput indicates how well a network conforms to a particular standard. Other metrics, such as latency, also indicate network performance and can impact bandwidth and throughput figures.