What is Bandwidth in Hosting?

Bandwidth is the amount of data that you can deliver to a users in a set amount of time. Many smaller hosting providers with shared and VPS hosting plans will measure bandwidth in terms of a monthly amount. Most providers give plenty of bandwidth for small to midsize websites with 5,000 monthly users to run just fine.

What is Bandwidth?

Bandwidth is essentially the rate at which data can transfer from your website to the eager screens of users. The term “bandwidth” comes from the related term in signal processing. In signal processing, bandwidth is the range of frequencies that can be sent or received. In computing, bandwidth is the range of data that can be sent and received.

It’s important to note that bandwidth will apply to both the user and the website. For example, if the user has a lightning-fast internet connection with a super high bandwidth, but the website has a low bandwidth, then the connection will be slow. Likewise, if you buy out huge chunks of bandwidth but your users have low-speed internet connections with low bandwidth, then the connection to the site will be slow. Think of bandwidth like a hose. The maximum rate of transfer for the liquid in the hose will be determined by the size of the hose at both ends. If one end has a massive diameter but the other is small, the transfer of liquid will get bottlenecked by the smaller end.

Bandwidth Considerations

There are basically 2 considerations that will tell you how much bandwidth you’re going to need to fly your website. What content am I delivering, and how many people are trying to get their hands on that content every month?

For example, if you host a 50 megabyte video, that video can only be downloaded 20 times before you hit 1 gig of bandwidth usage for the month. Web hosting services will often offer bandwidth on a monthly basis, which can be ideal for smaller sites. If you aren’t a massive video streaming service, like YouTube, you probably aren’t measuring your bandwidth rate in seconds. In fact, YouTube is quite famous for being a potentially half a billion dollar bandwidth industry, though it is suspected of offsetting those costs with the massive amount of fiber optic cable and ISP trades it makes. If you aren’t responsible for up to 10% of the web’s traffic, you aren’t even going to be measuring bandwidth by the day. Most hosting providers measure bandwidth by the month, and the 1, 5, or 10 gigs that they offer you should be plenty to float your site.

But let’s be a bit more realistic. If instead of 50 MB of a video, you have an entire website that stores about 1 MB of data, then you could have 1000 users per month without running out of a single gig of bandwidth. If you have 10 gigs, then you could have a site 10 times the size or 10 times the number of users without running low on bandwidth.

You’ll also need to consider the total size of your website compared with the amount of clicking around that users actually perform. For example, if you have 10 web pages that are all 1 MB large, but the average user only visits a couple of them, then the average user is not requesting the full 10 MB of your site. Additionally, if your site is equipped and armed with cookies and cache options, then you can cut down on the bandwidth that you’re delivering by locking information on the machines of the users. That way when users request the same web page from you twice in a month, some of the resources are called from their own machine and not your servers, which saves the user time and saves you bandwidth. Note that users generally can delete cookies and caches with can free up that space and require them to call the information from you once again.

Bandwidth Pricing

Pricing By the Gig

Some service providers, like Amazon’s Web Services, will charge your bandwidth by the gig of consumption. AWS’ new pricing model, for example, will charge you $0.15 a gig for the first 10 TB that you use. The price per gig drops a little bit for each tier of TB usage that you exceed.

The first 10 terabytes of data would correlate with 10,000 gigabytes of usage. Multiply that by the pricing model of $0.15 a gig, and you’ll be paying up to $1,500 for that first 10 TB of bandwidth. Of course, if you’re generating that amount of bandwidth usage every month, you’re running a huge website that probably has the income models to support that kind of operation costs.

Unlimited and Unmetered Bandwidth

You’ll notice that the general tone of this post is “don’t worry about bandwidth.” Truthfully, most hosting plans will give you more bandwidth than you’ll know what to do with for your site. And because hosting companies have noticed this, they’ve begun to advertise for things that you’ve probably heard of, like unlimited and unmetered bandwidth.

You should know that the two terms can really be used interchangeably, although plenty of articles will try to draw out significant differences between them. Unmetered bandwidth technically means that they aren’t measuring, and unlimited bandwidth technically means that while they are measuring, they don’t really care. Of course, companies that claim to have unmetered bandwidth still might measure.

The real advice here is to read the fine print in the service agreement. Many companies can offer unlimited and unmetered bandwidth only because they’ve got some failsafes that prevent them from having to support a bandwidth juggernaut should one pop up on their hosting services. You might find that they will no longer backup your site, and may even pull the plug on your site if you’re consuming way too much bandwidth. The formula for when your site gets bumped off usually is determined by how much you’re consuming versus how much you’re paying.