What’s the difference between Mbps and Gbps?
Gigabits are one thousand times bigger than megabits, which means gigabit internet is one thousand times faster than megabit internet. In fact, Gigabit internet is the new standard for high-speed internet. It’s megacool. Wait, are megabits still cool? Is it time to upgrade? How do I know if I’m getting the internet speed I need and, more importantly, how do I know if the price I’m paying is worth it?
Most people have a general idea of how internet speed is measured, but it can be hard to grasp just how big the differences between these speeds are. Not to worry. We’re here to break down the technical details as simply as possible.
Mbps vs Gbps
Internet speed is measured in bits per second (bps or b/s). Slower dial-up speeds were usually measured in kilobits per second (kbps), while broadband speeds are usually measured in megabits per second (Mbps) or gigabits per second (Gbps).
- One kilobit per second is equal to 1,000 bits per second.
- One megabit per second is equal to 1,000 kilobits per second or one million bits per second.
- One gigabit per second is equal to 1,000 megabits per second, one million kilobits per second, or one billion bits per second.
To visualize how much faster megabytes and gigabytes are, let’s compare it to running speed. Imagine you and a friend decide to race the length of a city block. By the time you reach the end of the block, your friend has run the equivalent of three back-to-back marathons. That’s how much faster megabit speeds are than kilobit speeds. Now imagine that a third friend joins your race. By the time you reach the end of the block, this friend has circled the Earth one and a half times. That’s how much faster gigabit internet is than a 1 kbps connection.
Bits vs. Bytes
Although internet speed is generally measured in bits per second, you might also hear terms like “megabytes” and “gigabytes” being tossed around. Bits and bytes are both units of data, but they’re used in different circumstances.
One Byte is made up of eight bits and is most often used when talking about data storage. The size of your hard drive or the size of a video file will be measured in bytes, abbreviated with a capital B. Your internet speed is measured in bits and abbreviated with a lower-case b.
If you want to know more, check out our article on the difference between bits and bytes.
How to convert between Gbps and Mbps
Because data rates are metric, converting between data rates is pretty easy. To move from one metric prefix to the next, you just multiply or divide by 1,000. In other words, you just have to add or remove three zeros at the end of the number (or shift the decimal point by three places).
For example, to find how fast a 1,200 Mbps internet connection is in kbps, you would multiply by 1,000:
1,200 × 1,000 = 1,200,000 kbps
To convert this same speed to gigabits per second, you would divide by 1,000:
1,200 ÷ 1,000 = 1.2 Gbps
You don’t normally have to convert between bits and bytes (unless you’re trying to manually estimate how long a download would take), but to do so, just multiply the number of bytes by eight, or divide the number of bytes by eight.
1,200 Mb = 150 MB
Do I need gigabit internet?
Gigabit internet is useful for any online activities that are bandwidth-intensive. It can save you time by dramatically reducing the wait for large downloads and improve the quality of video streams. There are good reasons to get the fastest internet available.
Of course, not everything we do online requires a fast connection, so you won’t notice a huge improvement when checking your email, for instance. Here are some online activities where you won’t notice much of a difference and some where you will.
|Uses less bandwidth||Uses more bandwidth|
|● Surfing the web|
● Checking email
● Playing online games
|● Watching videos|
● Downloading large files
● Video chatting
● Downloading video games
Streaming video is one of the most bandwidth-intensive things you can do online. If you have people streaming on multiple devices in your home, the speed requirements can add up fast.
To help, video services like Netflix and Hulu have a lot of tricks for keeping your viewing experience smooth, such as buffering video in the background and lowering the video quality if your connection can’t handle the load. But even Netflix can’t help much if too many people try to stream at the same time.
Gigabit internet is so fast that you could have a dozen people streaming in 4K at the same time and still be using less than half of your available bandwidth. If you want to know the nitty-gritty details of speed requirements for video services, we have an article about speed requirements for video services.
Video chat, unsurprisingly, needs a fast connection, just like streaming video. The big difference is that while Netflix needs a fast download speed, video chat needs both its upload and download speeds to be fast. This is where the type of connection becomes more important.
A gigabit cable connection probably has enough upload speed for a stable video call, but a gigabit fiber connection runs at gigabit speeds both ways. This makes it ideal for video chat like Zoom and Skype, as well as livestreaming on sites like Twitch.
If you want to find out more, here’s an article about what makes a good download and upload speed.
It might surprise some people that online games don’t require a lot of bandwidth. Speed is still important for having your game play smoothly, but it’s latency, rather than bandwidth, that you need to worry about. The higher your latency, the more lag you will experience when playing. Most gigabit connections (especially fiber) have really low latency—but you can often get the low-latency connection you need for online games without splurging on the fastest plan available.
The main takeaway is that gigabit internet is the gold standard for internet plans, but there’s a lot more to a good plan than just download speed. To find out more, check out the consumer’s guide to internet speed.
Do speeds get any faster than gigabit internet?
The fastest speeds available for residential internet are multigigabit fiber connections, which currently top out at around 2 Gbps. Of course, if you look at the infrastructure that the internet is built on, you can find connections carrying much more data. For example, the undersea cables that connect continents measure their bandwidth in terrabits per second (Tbps). That’s 1,000 faster than a gigabit per second.
How do I get gigabit Wi-Fi?
Since no single online activity comes close to requiring a gigabit connection on its own, most people interested in gigabit internet have a lot of devices to connect. Unless you own stock in an Ethernet cable manufacturer, the best way to do that is over Wi-Fi.
Your connection is only as fast as the slowest link in the chain, so if your Wi-Fi router can’t handle gigabit speeds, it will turn into a bottleneck, slowing down all the devices on your network. You can always plug important devices, like your work computer, directly into your router for optimal performance. But to get the most out of your connection, you need a wireless network that can keep up.
If you need to upgrade your router, check out our review of the fastest routers for gigabit internet.
Author - Peter Christiansen
Peter Christiansen holds a PhD in Communication from the University of Utah and has been working in tech for over 15 years, working as a computer programmer, game developer, filmmaker, and writer. His writing has been praised by outlets like Wired, Digital Humanities Now, and the New Statesman.
Editor - Aaron Gates