J. Pedro Ribeiro

Understanding Bandwidth vs Latency Through An Analogy

May 14, 2016


To understand how performance can affect your website, it’s important to understand common terms and which part they play in a network connection. I’m going to try to explain the differences between bandwidth and latency by using an analogy*. Bear with me.

Road to performance

Picture bandwidth as being the amount of luggage you can fit inside the boot of a car.

Now imagine latency as being the distance between you and your destination, let’s say Brighton.

You can fit (bandwidth) as much as you want as long as it fits the boot of your car. And for this exercise, let’s ignore the differences between cars.

Time for upgrade

You feel it’s time to upgrade your vehicle as you have too many things to carry. You upgrade it to a 5mb/s connection, I mean, a big truck with lots of space to fill (bandwidth).

Everything is great and you can carry all the items you want. But you still need to go to Brighton, and it’s quite far away (latency).

The distance (latency) is still the same, no matter how much you can carry (bandwidth) in one go.

Summing up

This is why streaming movies requires good bandwidth, as you need to carry a lot of data in one go. Websites, on the other hand, perform better when latency is reduced, lots of small files requires lots of roundtrips.

* This is not an original idea. I’ve read similar analogies several times. This is my take on it.

J. Pedro Ribeiro

I’m a Brazilian front-end developer living in London. This website features some of my latest projects and my thoughts on anything web related.
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