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What is Bandwidth Usage?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Bandwidth usage is the amount of data transmitted and received by a particular computer or user. The more data exchange that occurs, the higher the potential to clog the network, and the more energy taken up by a particular user. As a result, some companies have caps on bandwidth use which are designed to prevent users from transmitting and receiving so much data that they slow the network down, impairing the experience for other users.

In the case of a computer, bandwidth usage refers to all inbound and outbound traffic. Inbound traffic is data which comes into a computer, as for example when someone downloads a file from a website. Outbound traffic is data which is transmitted by the computer, such as a file attached to an email. Typically, usage is measured in bytes per second (Bps), although other units of measurement may be utilized, and service providers express bandwidth limits in terms of gigabytes, with limits commonly being daily or monthly.

Internet providers track bandwidth usage by looking at the amount of data going through a particular connection, or by identifying specific computers. On a college campus, for example, where people may use their computers in a variety of locations, it is commonly tracked by MAC address, and a student who exceeds the limit will be sent a message. People may be allowed to pay extra for additional bandwidth, or to appeal a usage cap on the argument that they need a lot of bandwidth for specific tasks and projects.

Websites may also have bandwidth usage caps, with the host providing the website's owner with a set amount of bandwidth per month. If traffic to and from the website exceeds this limit, the site may be shut down, or the user may be presented with a bill for the overage. A spike in bandwidth usage can also overload the servers for a website, causing it to go down, as commonly happens when small websites are linked to by large ones.

For people who are interested in or concerned about their bandwidth usage, it is possible to use a bandwidth monitor to keep track. In the case of individuals who have caps on bandwidth usage, a monitor can help to alert the user that service may be cut off in the near future. As a rough frame of reference, something like a streaming movie can take up around two and a half gigabytes, while an email might be two kilobytes.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By basilio — On Aug 26, 2010

i agree with lanmeng8001. just did a quick online search.

By lanmeng8001 — On Jun 18, 2010

It's not easy to give you precise answer, but i can tell you, as per my experience, that it is not more than 50Mb if you use 300,000 pixels webcam.

By gem2195 — On Jun 14, 2009

How many kilobytes/gigabytes can chatting through Yahoo Messenger while using my webcam take in my internet bandwidth usage? Let's say we chat for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Thanks! Hoping to receive answers!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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