A highway analogy to explain your broadband internet connection

October 20th, 2021
compare your internet connection to a busy highway

Broadband terminology can be confusing at the best of time so we’ve tried to come up with an analogy that compares your broadband connection to a busy highway. We hope it helps with your understanding.

First, let’s revisit the definitions relating to your broadband internet connection.

  • Speed – how fast data can be sent and received.
  • Bandwidth – Bandwidth is the maximum capacity of your internet connection whilst speed is how fast information is actually transferred at a given time.
  • Quota – how much data (GB) your broadband plan allows you to download per month
  • Shaping or Throttling – A maximum speed limit is imposed on your broadband connection. Some companies do this if you exceed your monthly quota.
  • Latency – The time it takes to send data and receive a response
Comparing your internet connection to a busy highway

If you think of your broadband connection as a highway with cars on it, the various parameters such as bandwidth and speed can be defined as below:

  • The highway is like a cable. One end is your house and the other end is the internet.
  • Data is represented by the cars. Each car is a small piece of data say 1 byte
  • The highway has multiple lanes that travel in each direction – one direction (call it left to right) is representative of upload and the other is download
  • Internet Speed is the total number of cars (data) that pass an imaginary vertical line per second.  The overall speed is a function of the speeds of the individual cars and the number of lanes.
  • Bandwidth is the maximum number of cars (data) that would pass an imaginary vertical line per second if all the lanes were full of cars and all the cars were travelling at their maximum speed. To increase the bandwidth you could add more lanes to the highway or increase the maximum speed of the cars.
  • Quota is the total number of vehicles that can use the highway per month. Most plans are unlimited these days so this is not as relevant.
  • Network congestion or slow broadband can be described as a traffic jam ie if there are too many cars on highway the traffic will move more slowly.
  • Shaping or throttling can be thought of as if a speed limit is being applied to the cars on the highway. The cars are restricted from travelling their maximum speed so the overall speed of the highway (or connection) is reduced.
  • Latency is the time taken for a car to drive from one end of the highway to the other. If there is network congestion, the cars will take longer to arrive and the latency will be higher. Fast broadband connections will have low latency.

We hope this helps explain how your internet connection works. If you have any questions or can think of a better way to explain things please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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