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Understanding Bandwidth

Bandwidth is a measure of the maximum rate of data transfer across time. This information is often described with bitrate, or how many bit are processed over unit of time, generally as megabits per second (Mbps).

How do you track bandwidth?

Bandwidth is measured in a few different ways. If you have internet at home you likely pay for a plan that offers an advertised speed in Mbps. This doesn’t track the amount of data you access in total, but how fast it comes to you. This speed may determine whether you’re able to watch high definition videos quickly, or if you’ll have to go make a sandwich while you wait for a video to buffer.

The other side of bandwidth generally gauges the sum of data transferred. If you have a smart phone, your contract may stipulate a set amount of data per month, generally expressed in GB. This has nothing to do with how quickly you receive information, but instead with how much information you receive and transfer.

Warpwire deals with bandwidth in both ways. In terms of speed, our video player automatically monitors what bandwidth speeds viewers can support and presents the video quality that best matches that speed. The goal is to maximize quality and minimize buffering within the constraints of the user’s network connection.

As as client, your institution also has an annual bandwidth allotment. This is measured in TB, and counts the total information transferred from our servers to your viewers, regardless of speed.

How much bandwidth will a particular video use?

In general, when it comes to video, bigger and higher quality files require more bandwidth to stream than shorter ones do.

Think of bandwidth as a highway. The more lanes there are, the more cars (data) can get through before traffic (transfer speed) gets worse. A two hour movie in high definition is like several 18-wheelers - a single image is more like a moped.

Videos can be streamed at a variety of quality levels and encoded and compressed in a variety of ways, so there's variability when estimating bandwidth usage. Still, we’ve done our best to give you some guidelines.

Let's take a 1 hour video file as an example. If someone watches it all the way through,

  • at Standard Definition = about 1GB Bandwidth
  • at High Definition = about 3GB Bandwidth
  • at 4k = about 6GB Bandwidth

With those benchmarks, we can say that 1TB of bandwidth would cover about 1000 hours of standard definition streaming, or about 333 hours of high definition streaming.

What's the difference between bandwidth and storage?

If bandwidth is tracking data that’s being transferred, what’s data storage?

Storage is how much information is, well, stored. Think of it as a parking deck. Bandwidth is when the cars are moving down the highway, and storage is how many spots are in your deck, and how many cars are parked in those spots.

Let’s get more concrete.

If you upload a one hour lecture video that’s 500MB, that’s storage. Warpwire creates low, medium, and high quality versions of the file when you upload, so it’ll end up taking up a bit more than the 500MB of the original, but it’s still a static storage amount that doesn’t change unless you delete the file.

Whether 100 people or 0 people watch that video, the storage remains the same. It’ll always take up a little more than 500MB of space.

Bandwidth, on the other hand, will fluctuate based on how often the video is watched, and at what quality levels viewers watch the video.

Let’s say that 10 students watch the video. Eight of them watch it in high definition, and two watch in standard definition. Streaming the videos from Warpwire’s servers to their devices uses bandwidth. About 1GB per person for the standard definition viewers, and about 3GB per person for the high definition viewers.

So. A bit more than 500MB of data storage for a one hour video. And about 26GB of bandwidth used to deliver that video to 10 students watching the various quality versions.

Hopefully these examples have clarified the ways bandwidth and storage are different, and how bandwidth works.

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