Difference Between Bandwidth and Data Transfer

In the world of web hosting plans, bandwidth and data transfer are two terms that people use interchangeably, but they are actually two completely different measurements. Knowing the difference between bandwidth and data transfer will enable you to make the best choice when deciding on a web hosting plan.

Data Transfer

Data transfer refers to the total amount of bytes of data a server transfers to a particular website in a given period of time. Most hosting plans measure the amount of data transferred across a server over a 30 day or one month period.


Bandwidth is a term that precedes servers, computers and all digital technologies. Bandwidth was first used in analog tools and devices to submit radio transmission signals, acoustic signals and other types of signals. In computing, bandwidth refers to the maximum amount of data that is transferable in a given period of time.

Data Transfer and Bandwidth in Terms of Capacity and Utilization

Capacity and utilization are common measurements that are used to gauge efficiency and productivity of a product or service, and they greatly parallel the concepts of data transfer and bandwidth.

Capacity, like bandwidth, is the maximum amount of output any given system can produce. For instance, if the server that hosts a particular website is served over a 1 Gigabyte (GB) connection, that particular website has a bandwidth of 1 GB. The connection where data flows back and forth between the server and the website has a maximum capacity of 1 GB.

Utilization, like data transfer, reflects the average amount of data a given system uses. For example, if the same dedicated server above hosts a relatively small website that does not receive much traffic, it may utilize 0.5 GB or approximately half of the 1GB capacity. As long as the website utilizes or transfers less than 1 GB of data each month, it will remain within its server 1 GB monthly capacity or bandwidth.

Real Life Example

To make data transfer and bandwidth more relatable, think of your home's electricity service as an example of the concept. Your electricity company may be able to supply 1000 kilowatts per hour (kWh) of electricity per month; this is the maximum capacity of electrical service your household can use within a certain period of time without incurring premium electricity rates.

If at the end of the month, you only utilized 940 kWh, this is the total amount of electricity transferred to your home during that particular month. Since you used less than the allotted 1000 kWh of electricity per month, you remained within your electrical capacity.

If at the end of the month you consumed 1200 kWh, you transferred more electricity to your home than the monthly 1000 kWh capacity. Since you used more than your monthly electrical capacity, you will more than likely incur higher or premium electricity rates for those extra kWh you used.

How Does Bandwidth and Data Transfer Affect Internet Browsing?

In regards browsing the Internet, bandwidth and data transfer mostly affect the speed at which we use the Internet to stream or download data. A prime example of when bandwidth would directly affect speed is when Internet surfers download songs, videos or any file across the Internet. The greater the individual Internet surfer's bandwidth, the faster a given file will transfer across the network at any given time. Simply stated, larger bandwidth means files download faster.

This concept also applies to simple web browsing. Internet users who have more bandwidth will find that web pages load faster and video viewing is smooth and rarely lags to allow the video to buffer. This is why dial-up internet connections are much slower than broadband cable internet connections; the difference in performance is in the bandwidth of each particular connection.

In certain instances, larger bandwidth does not always translate into increased browsing speed or rate of transfer. In regards to real-time applications like online gaming or VoIP, response time or latency is more important than large bandwidth. So if you experience choppy VoIP service increasing your bandwidth will have no effect on the quality of the service.

How Does Bandwidth and Data Transfer Affect Your Website?

Although bandwidth and data transfer are different measurements they are certainly connected. In the simplest of terms, data transfer is nothing more than the consumption of bandwidth. In regards to your website, the less bandwidth your web server provides, the slower the server transfers data when visitors arrive at your website and the more time it takes visitors to load your website, regardless of their Internet connection speed.

As your site begins to attract more visitors, it will begin to consume more of the server's bandwidth and slow the transfer speed even further. This will slow the loading time of your site down to the point where visitors are essentially lining up in a queue, waiting for their turn to view your site. Eventually, if your site visitors continue to grow, you will find that your site is unavailable because the server has transferred the maximum amount of data for the allowed bandwidth.

How to Keep Bandwidth Consumption to a Minimum

To avoid slowing your website down or potentially maxing your server's capacity, it is important to keep bandwidth as low as possible. Of course you cannot control the amount of visitors who arrive and your site, and quite frankly you don't want to. Most website owners want as many people to visit their website as possible, so website owners have to control bandwidth consumption through alternate methods.

Keeping file sizes small is the main way website owners can control their bandwidth usage. Using large images on a website is the main way most people go over their bandwidth limit. It is important that website owners use images and file types that consume the least amount of bandwidth to ensure that their site loads quickly and seamlessly for website visitors. Staying away from bandwidth hogs like flash files, song files and streamed video is another great way to keep bandwidth consumption to a minimum.

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