How Is Network Performance Measured?

How to Interpret the Speed Capability Ratings in Networking

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Measures of computer network performance—sometimes called internet speed— are commonly stated in units of bits per second (bps). This quantity can represent either an actual data rate or a theoretical limit to available network bandwidth.

Explanation of Performance Terms

Modern networks support enormous transfer numbers of bits per second. Instead of quoting speeds of 10,000 or 100,000 bps, networks normally express per second performance in terms of kilobits (Kbps), megabits (Mbps), and gigabits (Gbps), where:

  • 1 Kbps = 1,000 bits per second
  • 1 Mbps = 1,000 Kbps
  • 1 Gbps = 1,000 Mbps

A network with a performance rate of units in Gbps is much faster than one rated in units of Mbps or Kbps. 

Examples of Performance Measurements

Most network equipment rated in Kbps is older equipment and low-performance by today's standards.

  • Dial-up modems support transmission rates up to 56 Kbps. 
  • Theoretical speed in home networks using an 802.11g Wi-Fi router is rated at 54 Mbps, while newer 802.11n and 802.11ac routers are rated at 450 Mbps and 1300 Mbps, respectively.
  • The gigabit Ethernet in your office has a transmission rate approaching 1 Gbps.
  • A fiber-optic internet provider often reaches actual download speeds of 500 Mbps.

Bits vs. Bytes

The conventions used for measuring the capacity of computer disks and memory appear similar at first to those used for networks. Do not confuse bits and bytes.

Data storage capacity is normally measured in units of kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes.

In this non-network style of usage, uppercase K represents a multiplier of 1,024 units of capacity.

The following equations define the mathematics behind these terms:

  • 1 KB = 1,024 bytes
  • 1 MB = 1,024 KB
  • 1 GB = 1,024 MB
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