Today, we will try to help you understand the concept of bandwidth in networking and how it applies to a VPN as a whole. VPNs are great tools for data security and online privacy, but how do we calculate the amount of data going through a network? The simple answer is — by allocating bandwidth. Even a novice in computing would have heard the term “bandwidth” once or twice in their lives by now.
Terms like bandwidth, throttling, ping, and latency aren’t new to users. This is especially apparent with the advent of video games and web-based applications, where maintaining a network is increasingly more essential to each service. In retrospect, what bandwidth represents in the aspect of a VPN may not be the complete story. Generally, you’d associate the term with VPN servers to define overcrowding. However, it is not limited to servers. We will do our best to make the concept of VPN bandwidth understandable for everyone.
What is bandwidth?
Bandwidth is the maximum amount of data transmitted over an internet connection in a given amount of time. Many people mistake it to be internet speed, but it is the volume of information that goes over a network in a measured amount of time. We calculate bandwidth in megabits per second (Mbps).
Now, in computing, bandwidth is the maximum rate of data transfer across any given path. When we use the term network bandwidth, we measure the maximum capacity of a wired or wireless communication link to transmit data over a network in a specified timeframe. The network in question can vary — from LAN to a virtual network, bandwidth is applicable wherever there is a transference of data. However, you have to remember: bandwidth is a synonym for network capacity, but it is not a measure of network speed.
Imagine a jug. The total volume of the jug is the bandwidth. The rate at which you fill it is the speed. However, people confuse the two. As such, we can characterize bandwidth as network bandwidth, data bandwidth, or digital bandwidth. If we talk about VPNs and bandwidth, we will have to consider data bandwidth to define the server capacity. Additionally, we must also figure out the network bandwidth that will help us identify the maximum limit for that particular VPN.
How does it work?
In simple words, the more bandwidth a connection has, the more data it can send and receive at a provided time. That’s all. Bandwidth is not a technology that can affect the speed of a connection. Instead, it’s an upper limit, a threshold, if you may, that limits the amount of data that can travel to and from a network. Your ISP provides you with fixed bandwidth, and when you use it up, they throttle your data transfer. Similarly, free VPN services like TunnelBear or Windscribe have a bandwidth limitation. As soon as the amount of data going through these VPN services reaches a defined limit, the service gets terminated.
In conceptual terms, imagine bandwidth as a pipe. The volume of water that can travel through the pipe is directly proportional to its width. Bandwidth is the same. The higher the bandwidth, the more data it can handle. However, the cost of a network connection goes up as the bandwidth increases. Thus, a 1 Gbps DIA (Directed Internet Access) is costlier than a 250 Mbps one.
Difference between bandwidth and common network terms
Here’s how to distinguish bandwidth from these frequently used network terms:
Bandwidth vs. Speed
- Many confuse bandwidth and speed and think they’re synonymous. They are not.
- Speed refers to the rate at which data transfers.
- Bandwidth is the total capacity of data that can go through a network.
- In short, bandwidth is the capacity for speed.
Bandwidth vs. Latency
- Latency is the delay you experience on a connection.
- It happens due to the location of the server.
- It is the amount of time it takes for information to get to you from a source.
Bandwidth vs. Throughput
- Throughput is the amount of data that actually gets delivered over a network.
- Every network will suffer from data loss in transit.
- Thus, the throughput is the total amount of data – (minus) data loss.
How to measure bandwidth?
Traditionally, we used bps (bits per second) to measure bandwidth. However, the recent arrival of modern technologies and rapid development in networking capabilities have led us to use Mbps or even Gbps to display bandwidth. A connection can be symmetrical, meaning the data capacity is the same in both directions: uploads and downloads.
At the same time, we can encounter asymmetrical connections, where the download and upload capacities are not identical. Consumer-grade Internet broadband connections enjoy an asymmetrical setup, where the download capacity is more substantial than the upload one. However, the corporate-grade WAN (Wide Area Network) and DIA are more likely to be symmetrical in their application.
How much bandwidth do some services require? The minimum required bandwidth capacity of some internet services are as follows:
- VoIP calling — 80 Kbps
- Screen sharing — 150 Kbps
- Livestreaming (online classes) — 0.5 Mbps
- Broadband — 1.5 Mbps
- HD video calling — 3 Mbps
- HD video (1080p) streaming from Netflix/YouTube — 5 Mbps
- 4k Ultra HD video streaming — 25 Mbps
What is VPN bandwidth?
When you use a VPN service, you also exhaust your data according to the bandwidth specified. On top of that, VPN servers are limited within a network. As such, when many people connect to the same server, it gets overcrowded. It is where bandwidth comes into play. Many VPN providers claim that they have unlimited bandwidth, but that is a two-fold statement.
Firstly, they want to convey that their VPN network is not subject to a bandwidth limit, which can’t be true. Any connection, regardless of its speed, location, or strength, has a pre-defined upper limit. A network can’t support unlimited data traffic as it will lead to overhead and CPU overloading. Thus, they have the VPN bandwidth in place to curb this issue. Mainly observed in the corporate scene, the VPN bandwidth aids the management of online traffic to lessen the burden on the CPU. Additionally, it prevents a network overhead.
Secondly, they claim that their servers do not have limited bandwidth, meaning the number of clients connecting won’t affect the network. It is physically impossible for a VPN server to have unlimited bandwidth. Yes, they can manage it by dividing traffic across multiple servers. Nonetheless, servers will have an upper cap.
In conclusion, the VPN bandwidth dictates the way traffic will flow within the network and clients will connect to the server.
Importance of VPN bandwidth
We have already established that bandwidth is not an infinite resource. Because it is only available in a limited amount, it is crucial, more so for VPNs. It happens either due to physical limitations of the network devices, such as routers, gateways, concentrators, and more. It can also be restricted due to the policies of a network admin, ISP (Internet Service Provider), or WAN provider.
Since bandwidth is subject to limitation, the devices in a network have to share it irrespectively. However, some devices need more bandwidth than others. This depends on the end-user and the services required of the network. In a VPN, the servers require bandwidth to process more clients simultaneously to save costs. In a corporate network, maybe the concentrators are the one that ends up needing a hefty bandwidth.
Lastly, the administration has to be careful when employing VPN and respective technology concerning the bandwidth requirement.
How does VPN bandwidth affect a network?
The maximum capacity of the network connection is not the only factor that affects performance. However, it is a crucial aspect of the core issue. True, packet loss, latency, and jittering can all slow down a network. Yet, without corresponding bandwidth, it cannot work in the first place.
VPN bandwidth in a virtual network can affect the service itself. Take free VPNs for example. Since they do not offer a lot of servers, the connection tends to be slow. That’s because of the limited bandwidth. When multiple clients are connecting to a server, it slows downs the VPN.
On top of that, an end-to-end network path usually consists of multiple connections, each with its bandwidth limitation. Thus, the link with the lowest bandwidth becomes the bottleneck of the entire network. This can sufficiently restrict the overall capacity of all connections on the path.