Whenever you browse for the best web hosting services, you will always encounter the term bandwidth. Is it a good thing to go for the most expensive plan that has the highest bandwidth (usually unlimited)? Or is it better to test the waters first with a cheap plan with a lower bandwidth? How much bandwidth does your site really need? What is bandwidth, anyway?
What is Bandwidth [in a nutshell]
It is safe to say that your site’s bandwidth is your site’s upload speed. Download speed should be included. However, if you do not let users upload significant sizes of data to your server, it can be ignored, which is the case for most websites.
Your site’s upload speed is used whenever a user accesses your site. Again, when there are a lot of users accessing your site at the same time, the upload speed of your site will be shared.
Depending on the number of users and your bandwidth, the time needed for the users to download the file or web pages they are accessing will change. In simple terms, if your bandwidth is too low and you have many visitors, your web page’s load time or file downloads will become significantly slower.
Bandwidth versus Data Transfer
Most people confuse bandwidth with data transfer limit (usually monthly limit). Unlike bandwidth, data transfer is much like data cap for your mobile Internet connection. If your web hosting plan has a data transfer monthly limit, whenever your website uploads a specific amount of size of data or your users download a certain amount of data, your service can get suspended.
In layman’s terms, data transfer refers to the amount of data your website can provide to your visitors at a certain period of time (usually measured monthly) while bandwidth refers to the speed of your website to provide data at one time (usually measured in seconds).
How to Know the Ideal Bandwidth Limit for Your Site
Now, you understand what bandwidth and data transfer limit are. Unfortunately, most people interchange each other without even knowing that they are different. And the worst part is, some web hosts have exploited this ignorance.
Moving past that, the question of how much bandwidth your website needs is still completely unanswered. Surely, up to this point, you know the fact that choosing a low bandwidth can be disastrous to your visitor’s user experience.
Do also note that having a slow loading website is a major concern for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Read more in our article The 5 sec of engagement or why is your web hosting so important
Both factors can easily lower your visitor count.
Sadly, you cannot exactly pinpoint the exact bandwidth that is ideal for your website. The number of your site’s visitors fluctuates, the web pages they access can vary too much, and the updates that happen within your website that can alter each page’s file size. Those factors can easily change your bandwidth needs.
Calculating a Rough Estimate
Despite the impossibility of calculating the exact bandwidth for your site, you can calculate a rough estimate. You can do that by getting the highest total visitors in a month, the highest total page views in a month, and the file size of your homepage.
You can opt for the average size of your web pages, but that would be tedious. It is much easier and more accurate to calculate the size of your homepage since it usually is the biggest “file” that your user's access and most users almost always access a homepage first anyway.
Also, if you want a simple calculation, you can just ignore the visitor count. What really matters is the number of page views you are getting per month.
You can perform multiple methods to know the number of visitors and page views you have per month. If you are using WordPress as your site’s main CMS (Content Management System), you can get the statistics you need in the dashboard. On the other hand, you can use third-party services or plugins to get those statistics.
To determine the file size of your homepage, you can simply save your homepage in your computer. Most browsers allow the saving of web pages as complete web page files. Once you save the file, it will be separated into a file and a folder.
The file will be the HTML file for your homepage. The folder will contain all the resources such as scripts, styles, images, audio, flash, video (in some cases), and other web content of your homepage.
If your computer is running on Windows, you can just select the file and the folder. After that, right click on them. Click on Properties. A dialogue box will appear, and in there, you will see the total size of your homepage.
Once you get all the data you need, multiply all of them together like this:
Total Page Views * Homepage Size = Estimated Data Transfer/Month
Here are some numbers if your site is popular and a big one:
15,000 Page Views * 1.5Mbytes = 22,500 Mbytes or 22.5 Gbytes
In this example, your website uploaded 22.5 Gbytes of data in one month. That is your data transfer size per month. If you want to get your estimated bandwidth usage, divide it by 30. So, 22.5 Gbytes divided by 30 is equal to 0.75 Gbytes or 750 Mbytes. In bits, that value is equivalent to 6 Gbits or 6,000 Mbits. One can safely say this example site needs a stable bandwidth of 6 Gbits per day to accommodate all of its users and prevent the degradation of page loading time.
Of course, this is an optimal estimate. If you want to ensure that your bandwidth is enough, adding 25% up to 100% bandwidth capacity will secure your website.
Just a Footnote
However, if your page has quality images and thumbnails, it can easily go up to 1 to 2 Mbytes. Just one high resolution (uncompressed) carousel or banner image on the website alone can amount to 100 to 250 Kbytes. Having two or three of them will surely make your web page’s average size even bigger.
Introduction to Basic Server to User Relationship
Before you learn about bandwidth, you must know that a web host is a “computer” that hosts your files or web pages on the Web. The web host is also connected to the Web via an Internet connection, just like your computer.
Whenever a user visits your page, his computer actually downloads the files from the web host. The user consumes his download speed. On the other hand, since the web host will provide the user with the files he needs to view a page, the web host is technically uploading files to the user.
Is it confusing? It can be. Try reading and digesting the previous paragraph one more time.
ISPs and Your Internet Connection
You should now get the idea. Just like you and other Internet users, your ISPs (Internet Service Providers) give you a specific bandwidth (or Internet speed). For example, you might be receiving a bandwidth (download speed) of 3 Mbits/s from your ISP (Note: Values are lowered to make it easier to calculate later).
Bits and Bytes
Note that 3 Mbits/s is different from 3 Mbytes/s. If you convert 3 Mbits/s to Mbytes/s, you will get 0.375Mbytes/s, which is roughly 375 Kbytes/s. So, when you download a file and use all of your bandwidth, your download speed will be 375 Kbytes/s or 3 Mbits/s — not 3 Mbytes/s or 3,000 Kbytes/s. Do note that each byte contains 8 bits — 1 Kbyte = 8 Kbits and 1 Mbyte = 8 Mbits.
Anyway, if you download two files simultaneously and your computer will prioritize those downloads and exhaust your bandwidth to its limits, each file will have a download speed of 187.5 Kbytes/s. That is how Internet connection works (on a basic level).
Are you confused with the terms used in Internet speeds? Why is this too confusing? Marketing tactics. It is easier to market 3 Mbits/s than 0.375 Mbytes/s. And this leads to confused consumers.
Web Host and Your Server
Web hosting service providers do the same thing as ISPs. Aside from giving storage for your web files, they also provide bandwidth speed (upload speed in this case) to your server.
For example, if you only have opted for a 3 Mbits bandwidth plan for your website and one user tries to download one single file from you, what will happen? That user will be able to download that file with a speed of 375 Kbyte/s.
On the other hand, if you only have opted for a 3 Mbits bandwidth plan for your website and 10 users try to download one single file from you, what will happen? All of the users will have a download speed of 0.3 Mbits or 37.5Kbytes. That is quite slow, right? That happens because your server will try to cater to all the users that are downloading from your site.
Since you only have a low bandwidth of 3 Mbits, the speed will be reduced for each user because they will be sharing the bandwidth that you have. The speed of 37.5 Kbytes, though, is still decent.
However, what will happen if 100 users try to download from your site? All of them will download from you with a speed of 3.75 Kbytes. And that is too slow, especially in today’s download speed standards.
Check our list of the best web hosting providers in the UK.