What’s the difference between bits and bytes? And how long does it take to download 190 GB?

Blandin just introduced six new communities to the Blandin Broadband Community program and we have a lot of new legislators leading the state next year. So it feels like a good time for some basic technology 101 posts – like the difference between bits and bytes.

Both are measurements of data. A byte is 8 times bigger than a bit. Both measurements are small – so in the practical world usually give measurements in Kilobit/byte, Megabit/byte, Gigabit/byte. So how much is that?

  • KB, MB, GB – A kilobyte (KB) is 1,024 bytes. A megabyte (MB) is 1,024 kilobytes. A gigabyte (GB) is 1,024 megabytes. A terabyte (TB) is 1,024 gigabytes.
  • kb, Mb, Gb – A kilobit (kb) is 1,024 bits. A megabit (Mb) is 1,024 kilobits. A gigabit (Gb) is 1,024 megabits. A terabit (Tb) is 1,024 gigabits.

Bits are generally used for describing interface speed and bytes for storage. For example we tend to know broadband speed in bits or Megabits per second (Mbps). We tend to know the size of something we want to upload or download in Megabytes (MB) – a song is roughly 3-4 MB.

So how long does it take to download that song? It depends on your connection speed – and a little extra math is required to take in consideration the bit/byte difference. Luckily a good friend who is a math and tech whiz – Mick Souder – has shared with me a spreadsheet that calculates time to download.

I just read a recent report by iGR Research saying that the average household consumes 190 gigabytes (GB) of data per month – so that’s what I want to measure. How long does it take to download (or upload) that amount of data?

  • With a 1 Mbps connection it will take 453 hours to transfer (almost 19 days)
  • With a 5 Mbps connection it will take 90.7 hours to transfer (3.8 days)
  • With a 10 Mbps connection it will take 45.3 hours to transfer (almost 2 days)
  • With a 20 Mbps connection it will take 22.6 hours to transfer (just under 1 day)
  • With a 100 Mbps connection it will take 4.5 hours to transfer
  • With a 1 Gig connection it will take 27 minutes to transfer

Notice I haven’t separated upload and download – because the rate is the same. When we download a song to listen – it’s 3 Megabytes (MB); when we upload it to share or sell it’s 3 Megabytes (MB). Minnesota has separate speed goals based on upload or download because most households download (buy, watch, consume) more than they upload (create or share). But wouldn’t it be fun to see Minnesota households create as much as we consume?!

Want to know more about bits and bytes? Here’s a fun video:




This entry was posted in Building Broadband Tools, Understanding Broadband by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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