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Defining 'download speed'

Sun Advocate/Progress Network Administrator

We all hear about download speed. It's a very important part of what makes us choose our preferred Internet provider. We see television commercials claiming one Internet provider has faster download speeds than the leading competitor. We see ads in newspapers and magazines claiming the same. It's all about speed - or is it?

There's no doubt that there is a certain speed element (a factor of timeliness) when it comes to how quickly web pages and other online content loads (downloads) on your computer. But when most Internet providers are referring to download speed, they're not really talking how fast, but how much. It's a matter of capacity.

For example, a "faster" Internet connection doesn't really allow you to download web pages faster (in less time), per-se. It allows you to download more at once.

Virtually all Internet connection speeds are measured by the amount of data (i.e. information) that can be transferred in a second. A 512 Kb/s (kilobits per second) connection is "faster" than a 256 Kb/s connection because it can download twice the amount of information in the same amount of time.

Think of an Internet connection as a water aqueduct or canal. Putting in a bigger pipe or canal to your home or property isn't going to make the water move any faster, but it does allow more water to flow down the path at any given time, hence "speeding up" the process.

From a user's perspective, their DSL or cable connection might be "faster" than their old dial-up, but it's really just a matter of perspective.

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