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What is the difference between Mbps and Kbps?

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All the data you see via the internet is measured in binary digits. Most people are vaguely familiar with "binary language," which encodes data using 1s and 0s. However, you have likely never heard of the term in the context of internet and device data processing speeds. That is because it is almost always shortened from "binary digits" to “bits.”

Regardless of the type of internet connection you have, its speed will always be calculated in bits. Today’s internet speeds are fast compared to the early days of the World Wide Web. The smallest unit you will see these days is a kilobit. The prefix “kilo” means “one thousand,” so a kilobit (abbreviated as Kb) is 1,000 bits.

High-speed internet has brought a different unit into the picture. Megabits (Mb) are larger than kilobits, with one megabit equalling 1,000 kilobits (or one million bits).

When it comes to internet speed, the unit of measurement is the number of kilobits or megabits sent over the internet connection each second. While shopping for internet service, you will see these figures quoted in megabits per second (Mbps) and kilobits per second (Kbps).

The catch for internet service shoppers is that faster connections are more expensive, so for most users, the best strategy is to get a service plan that is quick enough for your online activities without much extra speed left over. It is possible to run a speed test to see the real-world data transfer rate.

Here is what you need to know about Mbps and Kbps and how they affect data transfer speeds and internet service.

Megabits and Kilobits vs. Megabytes and Kilobytes

It’s easy to confuse bits with another common digital data-related unit of measurement, bytes. On a technical level, there is one major difference. Bits contain only binary data, while bytes can also contain letters and symbols.

There is a mathematical comparison between the two terms: 1 byte is the equivalent of 8 bits. In other words, 1 byte consists of 8 binary digits.

You can convert bits to bytes by dividing the number of bits by eight. Both terms use the prefixes kilo (1,000) and mega (1 million) to make measuring the base unit easier.

Internet speed is almost always in bits, while bytes are the unit to measure memory requirements. There are also subtle differences in the abbreviations. Mb refers to megabits, while MB (both letters capitalized) is for megabytes. The same applies to kilobits (Kb) and kilobytes (KB).

These terms may overlap when it comes to download and upload speeds. Kilobytes per second (KBps) and megabytes per second (MBps) can refer to the upload or download speed of a file. Bytes per second measurements offer insight into the volume of data that a connection can handle. In practical terms, a low KBps figure could mean it will take a long time to upload a large file, which could create a roadblock in your connection, making it unusable for other tasks until the upload is complete.

For internet connection speeds, however, the primary units are bits, so you need to find the Kbps or Mbps figure that meets your needs.

How do Mbps relate to Kbps?

As we have already stated, 1 Mbps is 1,000 times faster than 1 Kbps. Mbps speeds are more common, but there may be instances where you need to convert one unit to the other to compare internet speeds or speed requirements for specific activities. Such a comparison can only take place if both figures are in the same unit.

Luckily, the conversion is easy for anyone who paid attention in middle school math (or knows how to use a calculator). You can convert Mbps to Kbps by multiplying the megabit figure by 1,000. The product will typically be a very large number. To go from Kbps to Mbps, you divide the kilobit number by 1,000. This will be a much smaller number, and it will often have a decimal.

You may find it easier to compare in Mbps, because the numbers will be much smaller, but it doesn’t matter as long as all the speed numbers are in the same unit.

What’s faster: Mbps or Kbps?

Mbps is faster than Kbps. Unless the Kbps measurement is more than 1,000 or the Mbps is a decimal figure less than one, you can automatically assume that Mbps is faster.

The key is to understand how much speed you need for your internet connection. If you only need basic online tools like email and a browser, speeds measured in Kbps may be fine. In other instances, anything less than 5 Mbps will be too slow.

Why should you know the difference between Kbps and Mbps?

What connection speed do you need from your internet service or data plan? It depends on how you plan to use it.

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) converts its internet speed units into Mbps. It publishes rough guidelines regarding minimum speeds for specific tasks. The agency suggests at least 1 Mbps for general internet browsing and email and 0.5 Mbps (500 Kbps) for music streaming, VoIP calls, and other basic tasks. For telecommuting and online study it suggests at least 5 Mbps, and video streaming recommendations vary based on video resolution. For HD videos it suggests at least 5 Mbps, while for 4K movies it suggests at least 25 Mbps.

These figures are based on a single internet user. If multiple people in your household or office are online at the same time, these requirements will rise.

What happens if your internet speed doesn’t support your needs? Network strain occurs when you are running multiple programs, or multiple users are performing high-demand tasks simultaneously. If this happens, and there is not enough speed to keep up, you will notice greater lag, disconnections, and other problems.

With 4K streaming, virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) software, and online gaming via internet-connected consoles, the issue of network strain is more common than you might think.

You should also consider network strain when choosing an internet service provider (ISP). The company should offer speeds that are fast enough to handle the needs of you and the others in your home or office. It will also be helpful if they have different plans so that you can switch to a higher or lower speed setup if needed.