One of the more challenging technology issues to wrap your head around when planning a website and choosing a web hosting service is bandwidth: What is it? How much do you need? Even if you have owned several sites in the past, when it comes to understanding broadband offers from hosting companies, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Absolute truths are inevitable when it comes to bandwidth:
- You need to find the right bandwidth option for your needs.
- Failure to do so will result in an underperforming website, additional charges, or both.
What is Bandwidth?
In its most basic definition, bandwidth describes the level of traffic and data allowed to travel and transfer between your site, users, and the Internet. Each web hosting company will offer a particular degree of bandwidth. This is often a good indication of which hosting companies have the best of three essential components: Networks, connections, and systems.
Usually, the more bandwidth a web host can provide, the faster and the better these three factors will be.
Your Network Connectivity
You probably already know that the Internet consists of millions of computers around the world that are connected by networks. The bigger the connection, the faster the network, and the more bandwidth that is available for a site. If you are familiar with your home Internet connection, you have probably encountered bandwidth regarding your connection speed. After all, speed is a lot easier for the layperson to understand than a technical-sounding term such as bandwidth.
Bandwidth at Home
A few years ago, you might have used a frustratingly slow DSL connection with a speed of 1.5 megabits (MB) per second. Replace the word “speed” with “bandwidth” and it will become apparent. Your bandwidth allowed a maximum of 1.5MB per second to transfer from a network to your computer.
The Advent of Broadband
The problem of dreadfully slow DSL connections gave rise to what is known as broadband, i.e., the capacity to transfer large amounts of data quickly over a copper cable connection. Fibre optic cable is now replacing the copper wire, setting a new gold standard in broadband speeds, and moving us from the world of megabit speeds into the world of gigabit speeds (1000 megabits equal 1 gigabit).
Within Web Hosting
Getting back to web hosting, you can liken a DSL connection to a shared server. On its own, the connection or server is very powerful; when being shared by dozens or hundreds of people, it slows to a crawl. You can still experience this today in an Internet café or a library; the connection will be noticeably quicker early in the morning when you are the sole user than it will be later in the day when a plethora of users get online and slow the connection down (times of peak usage).
Bandwidth and the Relationship With Web Traffic
Let’s use another analogy to help make bandwidth clearer. In this example, the bandwidth is the number of tables in a restaurant, and the web traffic is the diners. The math is simple: The more tables in the restaurant, the more patrons can dine there at any one time.
Assuring Site Performance Under High Traffic Conditions
Translate this back to the Internet: The higher your bandwidth, the more people can visit your site at the same time and thoroughly enjoy the peak experience you created for them. Remember, however, that it takes a unique restaurant with skilled employees to manage operations when the venue is full. How your site operates under the stress of high traffic will be crucial to your success. What is the use of high bandwidth if your site cannot cope? You might be able to facilitate 400 visitors a day. What would happen if they all turned up at once?
Understanding traffic patterns is an important consideration when choosing a bandwidth option. Taking the time now to conduct detailed research into your likely visitor demographics will result in a fact-based approach to determining your bandwidth needs. The most likely outcome? You will decide to pay for more bandwidth to assure consistency in your website performance throughout the day for all visitors.
Considering Bandwidth and Web Design
Do not fall prey to the common misconception that downloading data is only associated with modern entertainment sites such as YouTube or iTunes. Almost every action a person takes online involves downloading some amount of data. The bigger and more complicated your web design, the more bandwidth will be used up whenever someone visits your site, even if he or she do not get past your homepage. Thankfully, modern web design trends are moving toward simplistic, minimalist designs. This means your site can present a professionally designed, contemporary look without appearing to be a budget compromise.
The Big Question: How Much Bandwidth Do You Need?
The answer to this question depends on a variety of factors. Fortunately, we have a formula you can apply that will sort out these factors and help you nail down how much bandwidth you need to support the traffic on your site. Armed with this information you can evaluate offers from different hosting companies, dismissing those that try to sell you more bandwidth than you need.
The Bandwidth Formula
As long as you do not provide file downloads from your website, the following formula will tell you how much bandwidth you need:
Daily visitors x Daily page views x Average page size x 31 x Tolerance number
The method gets a little more complicated if your website does contain downloadable content, but is still a reasonably straightforward equation. If your school math is rusty, remember that you have to solve the formulas in the brackets first!
(Daily visitors x Daily page views x Average page size) + (Daily file downloads x Average file size) x 31 x Tolerance number
Finding Your Bandwidth Number
We have created the following table that you can reproduce to help you come up with the correct variables in the formula. We have also included example numbers that we will use to revisit the equation at the end.
|Element||What it Means||Number (Our Example, Populate this with Your Numbers)|
|Daily visitors (average)||The number of daily visitors you expect your site to have. Calculate an average across the month. Do not over-complicate it and work it out day-by-day.||200|
|Daily page views (average)||Again, calculate an average projection across the month.||650|
|Average page size||What is the average size of your pages, all things included, in KB.||60|
|Daily file downloads (average)||How many times will content be downloaded from your site on a regular basis regarding additional data independent of your web pages?||10|
|Average downloaded file size||How big is the common file you can download from your site? Err on the side of caution and always go bigger if in doubt. Measure this in KB, too.||850|
|Tolerance number||This is your ‘room for error.’ If ‘1’ is your estimate, make this number 1.33, or 1.5, depending on how confident you are in your projections. If you believe your site may grow quickly, aim for a higher number.||2|
In case you are wondering, the “31” in the formula refers to the maximum number of days in a month. Most hosting companies calculate bandwidth allowance on a monthly basis, so we take the numbers and multiply them by 31.
DO NOT MISCALCULATE: Double check every number your input. If your calculation is too small, you may find yourself with only a fraction of the bandwidth you require. If it is too high, you may end up paying unnecessarily for the bandwidth you do not need. Remember, too, that most hosting companies will offer bandwidth based on GB per month, so be sure to convert the number from KB to GB.
This is what our hypothetic website would need:
(Daily visitors  x Daily page views  x Average page size ) + (Daily file downloads  x Average downloaded file ) x 31 x 2
Simplified, this gives us:
7,800,000 + 8500 x 31 x 2
The answer is a rather huge-looking 484,127,800KB, which converts to about 462GB, the exact bandwidth requirement for that website.
Choosing Your Solution
Bear in mind that a number such as the one above represents the bandwidth requirements for a reasonably sized site turning over a good sum of money [generating a good amount of revenue?]. A small business might only require up to 5GB, if that when the website is first launched. It is also unlikely that when you first get started, you will have much content to download. However, this is still a great equation to keep in mind when projecting costs as your business — and traffic levels — grow.
Unlimited Bandwidth versus Unmetered Bandwidth
Now, let’s clear up that point we mentioned earlier: Offers of unlimited bandwidth. Many web-hosting companies will offer unlimited bandwidth as part of their hosting package, a very attractive offer at face value. Unmetered bandwidth, on the other hand, is a much more transparent offer. The web hosting company is telling you they do not measure your bandwidth usage; you simply pay the agreed rate and use what you need.