What is Mbps?

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  • Originally Written By: R. Kayne
  • Revised By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2015
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Megabits per second (Mbps) refers to data transfer speeds as measured in megabits (Mb). This term is commonly used in communications and data technology to demonstrate the speed at which a transfer takes place. A megabit is just over one million bits, so "Mbps" indicates the transfer of one million bits of data each second. Data can be moved even faster than this, measured by terms like gigabits per second (Gbps).

Understanding the Megabit

A bit is a single unit of data, expressed as either a "0" or a "1" in binary code. A string of eight bits equals one byte. Any character formed, such as a letter of the alphabet, a number, or a punctuation mark, requires eight binary bits to describe it. For example:

  • A = 01000001
  • B = 01000010
  • a = 01100001
  • b = 01100010
  • 6 = 00110110
  • 7 = 00110111
  • ! = 00100001
  • @ = 01000000

A megabit actually has two different values, depending on the context of the term. When used to describe data storage, a megabit (Mb) is the equivalent of 220 or 1,048,576 bits. However, when used to describe data transfer rates, one Mb equals 1,000,000 bits. Therefore, 1 Mbps is equal to 1,000,000 bits per second, not 1,048,576.


Distinction Between Megabits and Megabytes

In addition to the confusion over the value of a megabit, some people can also confuse the megabit (Mb) and the megabyte (MB). As noted earlier, one byte (B) is comprised of 8 bits (b). The distinction between megabytes in data storage and transfer contexts is the same as megabits and can lead to additional confusion. However, 1 megabyte per second (MBps) is equal to 8 Mbps (megabits per second). It is important to notice that the capital "B" is what distinguishes between megabits per second (Mbps) and megabytes per second (MBps).

Usage in Networks

Networking technologies are commonly rated in terms of megabits per second. This includes phone-line networks, wireless communications, and commercial or public networks like the Internet. Companies that sell high-speed service often advertise data transfer speeds in terms of Mbps, though some also use 1,000 bits or kilobits per second (kbps). Wireless routers and network interface cards (NICs) are among the hardware devices generally evaluated and advertised in terms of data transfer rates.

When purchasing equipment, customers should compare speeds properly between components to ensure they get the best possible rates. It is important to buy components that support equal speeds, as the slowest component will often determine the speed of the connection. For example, if a wireless router supports speeds up to 54 Mbps, upgrading to an NIC that supports up to 108 Mbps will make little difference without upgrading the router as well. The higher speed of the card may get data more quickly from the router to the computer, but the router itself can only transfer data at half that speed.

Faster Speeds

As communications technology continues to advance, the speed of data transfers also increases. In much the same way that memory has moved from megabytes to gigabytes, data rates are also changing from megabits to gigabits. A gigabit is one billion bits or 1,000 megabits.


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Discuss this Article

Post 40

I think 1Mbps is fine for general internet surfing. You only require 10Mbps or more for lots of downloading but it all boils down to can you wait 24 hours for a big download or 5 mins. Most internet websites will load up just as quickly though once you hit 1mbps.

So yes 1mbps is ample for email, browsing, small downloads or big downloads if you are prepared to wait a lot longer.

Post 39

I spent hours with service techs from both Time Warner and Cisco, who couldn't explain why I could get 54mpbs data speeds on the internet when their signal to the modem, as they explained it, had a range of 1-15 mpbs. Of course we were talking on the phone so there was no capitalization, but you think they'd know the difference between bit and byte. All they could say was "it's different between the router and the modem." No clear understanding of what the difference was, exactly. Like the router somehow amped up the signal. This article should be required reading in the training of any service tech.

Post 37

What gets me is DSL says their speed is 7mbps and my adapter is rated for 300mbps. So what the heck is 7mbps do they mean 70 or 700 or 7,000?

If you go to broadband report my 1.5 mbps connection checks out at 1500 mbps. So what is up with this?

Post 35

I'm wanting to get netflix so I can watch movies on my computer because I'm home bound and can't afford the high cost of cable on SSI. I have cricket for my phone and computer. Netflix says I need 500kbps, cricket says their speed is 1.4 Mbps. Will this work? Will I have to sit and wait 30 seconds to watch five minutes of a movie?

Post 31

So I can get on the internet by using wifi ubs wireless network adapter and a bearextender in most hot spots.

Post 27

I have been using my internal wifi to connect to a public hot spot. I usually get 2-6 mbps, but still the computer surfs relatively good, no dropped signal. However, I want more strength, more signal coming to my laptop so I did a search all over the web and saw many products available. I found a good product and I now get 54 mbps and many, many wifi signals to choose from. I picked up nine more wifi signals than what I had before. The product name is Bearextender for both Mac and Windows. Shipping is awesome. Received it in three days. Price isn't so bad, either. Well worth it. No more low signal for me.

Post 24

good informative article. Two days back i had fight with my ISP. She was multiplying my download rate with 8 to which i argued with her (i miss understood mbps). But now i understand what she meant. Thanks

Post 20

nice article. thanks.

Post 18

Excellent article -- the best explanation I was able to find quickly through a search engine, in fact.

Post 17

it's nice information. thank you.

Post 16

nice article.

Post 15

oh my god, 1Mbps is a satisfactory speed?, i have a 12Mbps connection that means kind of 1.5 Mb/s on external download, and it really ticks me off. i will double it, for for more money, it is reasonable, but it will continue to tick me off because is a big difference between 24Mbps and 84Mbps that i had.

Post 14

this information was important for all those who are for computers.

Post 13

Thank you: this is very informative. Clearly expressed and laid out. I'll certainly be referring to this site often - sub-editor

Post 9

Wonderful. Now I know the difference. thank you.

Post 8

aha very nice article.

Post 7

About calculators - you can actually punch your conversion directly into some search engines and it will do the conversion for you.

About satisfactory connections - I have used 512 kilobyte (0.512 mbps) for ages without major complaints. You do have to wait for things, but not as long as one might expect, and it's a very cost effective internet solution. I'm now on 1 mbps and the gain is certainly nice, but then again 512k wasn't frustrating to begin with.

Post 6

Is 1Mbps a satisfactory speed for normal internet surfing? I enjoy downloading pictures and some software,would this speed be acceptable

Post 4

There are megabit (mb) to megabyte (MB) calculators available online. A simple search for "megabit to megabyte calculator" should get you to one....

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