Computers With Chris: Network Speed vs. Download Speed

Network Cables
Chris Thompson
Staff Reporter

One of the more confusing aspects of technological terms is the discussion between internet speed and download speed. The term 'speed' is often the confusing factor in the equation and invokes a misconstrued idea about what internet service provides offer.

To put it in the simplest terms, internet speed refers to how fast information like credentials and licenses are traveling over the internet between your computer and websites or servers you are trying to access. Meanwhile, download speed is how fast the data for files, photos, and video are delivered to your device. The two speeds are proportionally related, however. Having a higher internet speed results in higher download speeds.

One of the biggest indicators for whether something is referring to internet or download speed is the abbreviation used. Internet speeds are reported in megabits pet second, written as Mb/s. Note the lowercase 'b' used. Download speeds, on the other hand, are reported in megabytes per second, written as MB/s. Notice the capital 'b' used in this situation.

Another key indicator is that average download speeds will normally not exceed around 10 MB/s or so. If an advertisement or another person is saying their speed is something like 'one hundred' or 'two hundred' they are almost always referring to internet speed and not download speed.

The reason why this is important to know is to be aware of what companies like CableOne, Suddenlink, or some other internet provider mean when they offer you deals at certain speeds. For example, if you are operating on a plan for CableOne that can grant you up to 200 Mb/s speed, your average download speeds—on a good day, barring any network traffic or interference (which is rare)—will be somewhere between 4-6 MB/s.

So, if someone checks an online speed test and realizes that the number reported from the speed test doesn't match the speeds they are getting while downloading a file, the difference is usually related to network speed and download speed being different values.