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Kilobit - Megabit - Gigabit 2021

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In computer networking, a kilobit normally represents 1000 bits of data. A megabit represents 1000 kilobits and a gigabit represents 1000 megabits (equal to one million kilobits).

Network Data Rates: Bits Per Second

Kilobits, megabits, and gigabits traveling over a computer network are typically measured per second:

1 kilobit per second equals 1 Kbps or kbps (these are equivalent)1 megabit per second equals 1 Mbps1 gigabit per second equals 1 Gbps

Slow network connections are measured in kilobits, faster links in megabits, and very fast connections in gigabits.

Examples of Kilobits, Megabits. and Gigabits

The table below summarizes common usage of these terms in computer networking. Speed ratings represent the rated maximum of the technology.

standarddial-upmodems56 Kbpstypical encoding rates of MP3 music files128 Kbps, 160 Kbps, 256 Kbps, 320 Mbpsmaximum encoding rate of Dolby Digital (audio)640 KbpsT1 line1544 KbpsEthernet10 Mbps802.11b Wi-Fi11 Mbps802.11a and802.11g Wi-Fi54 MbpsFast Ethernet100 Mbpstypical802.11n Wi-FI data rates150 Mbps, 300 Mbps, 450 Mbps, 600 Mbpstypical802.11ac Wi-Fi data rates433 Mbps, 867 Mbps, 1300 Mbps, 2600 MbpsGigabit Ethernet1 Gbps10 Gigabit Ethernet10 Gbps

The speed ratings of internet services vary depending on the kind of internet access technology you're using and also your choice of subscription plans. Many years ago, mainstream broadband connections were rated 384 Kbps and 512 Kbps. Now, speeds above 5 Mbps are common, with 10 Mbps and higher the norm in some cities and countries.

The Problem with Bit Rates

The Mbps and Gbps ratings of network equipment (including internet connections) get prominent billing in product sales and marketing. However, these data rates are only indirectly connected to network speed and the performance levels that users of a network actually experience.

For example, consumers and home networks normally generate only a small amount of network traffic, but in rapid bursts, from usages like Web browsing and email. Even a relatively modest sustained data rate like 5 Mbps is sufficient for most Netflix streaming. Network load only gradually increases as more devices and users are added. Much of that traffic is incoming from the internet rather than self-generated within the home, where long-distance networking delays and other limits of a household's internet link often (not always) dictate the overall performance experience.

The Confusion Between Bits and Bytes

People less familiar with computer networking believe one kilobit equals 1024 bits. This equivalence is untrue in networking but may be valid in other contexts. Specifications for network adapters, network routers, and other equipment always use 1000-bit kilobits as the basis of their quoted data rates. The confusion arises as computer memory and disk drive manufacturers often use 1024-byte kilobytes as the basis of their quoted capacities.

Get more background by exploring our article about the difference between bits and bytes.