Understanding Bandwidth

We have discussed before that video communications can use a large amount of your internet bandwidth, but what is bandwidth? Bandwidth, with regards to internet usage, describes the MAXIMUM amount of data that can be transferred and is generally synonymous to internet speed.

You can visualize the transfer of internet data as vehicles on a road, with bandwidth being comparable to the amount of lanes. Having a higher internet bandwidth is like having 6-8 lanes on a one-way freeway, where hundreds to thousands of vehicles can freely travel with little worry of traffic slowing down. Similarly, lower bandwidth is like having a countryside dirt road for the same amount of vehicles to travel through. Guess which road can move those hundred to thousand vehicles quickly and more efficiently: a high bandwidth freeway.

Now how is this relatable to online video lessons or meetings? If you are on a reasonable internet plan, there is a good chance that you have plenty of bandwidth when it comes to downloading. That is why many Internet Service Providers (or ISPs) advertise their internet plans using Download speed or Download bandwidth. This is how fast we receive internet data, which can range from 10 Mbps (Megabits/sec) to 300 Mbps of download speed in the Winnipeg area, or much faster in bigger cities across Canada. Many of our daily internet activities such as surfing the web and streaming TV/music/movies heavily depend on how fast you can download or receive the content to your computer or device. When using the internet, we normally receive data much more than we send it.

Video lessons however use plenty of upload bandwidth (the speed of sending data) on top of our usual downloading of data. Many internet plans provide the bare minimum of upload bandwidth with their plans, usually ranging from speeds of 1 to 5 Mbps. This is significantly less available bandwidth/max speed for SENDING data than we use for RECEIVING data.

Even if online video lessons can use up to 2 Mbps of bandwidth, if we only have a maximum of 5 Mbps of Upload bandwidth, that only leaves us with 3 Mbps of bandwidth left for other apps, devices and users. If you're the only person in the household, then that may sound alright, but if you have a large family and multiple internet connected devices, activities such as other video calls or uploading photos/videos to social media can cause our internet to suddenly bog down during video lessons.