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What do All the Numbers Mean?

It can be tricky to decipher all the numbers and terms used when describing internet speed options. Do you need 100 Mbps? 500 Mbps? What about gigabit internet? Understanding these definitions and then learning how to apply that understanding to choosing the right speed for your household is important.

What do internet speeds mean?

Computers work using units of data called bits or binary digits. Computers can process multiple bits of information at a time.

A common rate at which computers can transfer or process information is called megabits per second or mbps. When you see an Internet speed such as 100mbps* this literally means that 100 million bits of data are being transferred from one machine to another in a single second. Let’s break it down a little further:

1 megabit
= 1,000,000 bits of information
= 1 million bits of data

100 mbps (megabits per second)
= 100 million bits of data
   are transferred per second

1 gigabit
= 1,000 mbps
= 1 billion bits of data

1gbps (gigabits per second)
= 1 billion bits of data
   are transferred per second

*Experienced speeds may vary. For complete details click here.

How does mbps or gbps work?

How do you know how many bits of information are in a common file – such as an iTunes song or a YouTube video or even a Netflix episode of your favorite show?

Say, for example, you wanted to stream a 2 hr HD film. The typical movie file size is 2 gigabits of data and if you had a 50mbps* Internet connect, you could download that movie in 40 minutes. The faster your Internet connection, the faster you can download information to the device or machine you are using.

Data or information type Typical size of that information
2-hr HD movie 2 gigabits of data
200 iTunes songs 1 gigabit of data

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*Internet download speeds may vary and are not guaranteed. Observed speeds may vary based on device connection & other factors outside of RCN’s control. Gig Internet offers speeds up to 940 Mbps. See for why speeds may vary. Certain equipment may be required to receive Gigabit speeds up to 940 Mbps. RCN substantiates that the cable modem equipment provided, and the configuration of such cable modem, meets the broadband speeds advertised when attached to a wired connection based on SamKnows testing procedures. High-speed modem required for RCN High-Speed Internet service.If a data outlet is needed, an additional outlet fee may apply in addition to applicable installation fees. Actual speeds may vary; stated speeds are up to subscribed to/stated speed and are not guaranteed. The actual range and reliability of a wireless network is affected by a number of factors. Downstream data speed may be affected by whether the data accessed is cached or non-cached; Internet-related factors, such as the location and configuration of each accessed server; internal network factors, including customer compliance with RCN usage policies set forth in the acceptable usage policy; the level of overall traffic; and the customer’s computer configuration. RCN's FCC Network Management Disclosure makes available information regarding our network management practices and the performance and commercial terms of our Internet access services to enable you to make informed choices regarding the purchase and use of our services, in accordance with Part 8 of the Rules of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).


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