Bandwidth Vs. Data Transfer Rate

By Rick Harris

When researching web hosting packages, you might come across bandwidth and data transfer rate being used synonymously. While they are related, they refer to two very different measurements when it comes to web communications. Understanding the differences will enable you to make the best choice when deciding on web hosting solutions for your site.


According to the Computing Services Department of Carnegie Mellon, the bandwidth is the maximum potential data that can be transferred within a given time. In most situations, a website is hosted on a shared server with other websites. The bandwidth is shared among all websites that are hosted on that server.

Data Transfer Rate

The data transfer rate is the actual amount of data that is passed from one location to another over a given period of time, according to Search Unified Communications. For web hosts, data transfer rates are commonly limited, depending on the hosting package chosen. Some hosting companies offer unlimited data transfer. However, this can be somewhat misleading, considering how the data transfer rate and bandwidth relate.


The best way to understand bandwidth and data transfer rate is to think of a water pipe. In a hardware store, you can find a 1-inch pipe or a 1/2-inch pipe. The pipe width (or bandwidth) determines the maximum amount of water that can flow through at once. Meanwhile, the actual amount of water that travels through the pipe (or date transfer rate) may not meet the full potential that the pipe can handle at a given time. In a shared server setting, bandwidth will vary, depending on the usage of other sites on the same server. The maximum data transfer rate will be limited by the maximum bandwidth allotted to your site, which in turn also limits the "unlimited" data transfer plans offered by some hosts.


For web hosting, bandwidth is usually measured in the number of bits or bytes per second. Data transfer rates, however, are often measured throughout each month. As a result, data transfer is represented in larger measures, such as megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB), but can also be measured in bytes and kilobytes (KB).


Some believe that higher maximum data transfer rates mean that their sites will have faster load times. There are a number of factors that can affect the load time of a page, including image file size, videos and the amount of code to process. When it comes to the host, bandwidth will primarily determine the load times of a site. If five visitors access the site at one time, then the maximum bandwidth is split among those five visitors, making the page load times longer. When choosing a web hosting package, consider both the bandwidth and the maximum data transfer rate.