What is: Bandwidth

Bandwidth in website hosting is the amount of data your website can transfer to your users in a given amount of time. Typically bandwidth is calculated and sold by Gigabytes (GB), but some web hosting companies may offer “unlimited bandwidth”. We’ll discuss more on that later.

The easiest way to understand how bandwidth works is to think of it as a diameter of the pipe.

A large pipe can deliver more water at one time than a small pipe. That’s because a larger pipe has more capacity to do so. In the same way, having more bandwidth means that more website data can be moved at one time.

Why Is Bandwidth Important?

The amount of bandwidth you have determines how quickly your website can deliver content to your visitors during peak traffic times. It is a vital part of growing your audience and increasing your sales.

Higher bandwidths allow website owners to have more dynamic features and content on their websites which can be more appealing to their visitors.

How Can I Check My Bandwidth?

As a website owner, you can easily check your bandwidth by logging into your WordPress hosting account’s dashboard.

In the control panel, you need to look for a section that allows you to view your site’s resource activity. This will look slightly different for each host. Some web hosts make this easy by displaying an icon or link, so you can see how much bandwidth your site is using.

Here’s an example of what it looks like in Bluehost control panel:

Once you click on the bandwidth breakdown, it will show you trends broken down by time periods, so you can see how much bandwidth your website used in the last 24 hours, the past week, month, and over the year.

What Is Unlimited Bandwidth?

Just like there’s no such thing as unlimited storage space on a server, there’s no such thing as unlimited bandwidth.

You’ll often see various shared web hosting companies offering unlimited bandwidth, domains, or disk space. This is a bit misleading because every web hosting provider has bandwidth limits on the packages they offer.

So, why do web hosts advertise “unlimited bandwidth”? That’s because they know that, under normal circumstances, the sites on a shared server will never use up all the available bandwidth.

Instead of educating non-techy website owners about bandwidth and having them decide on bandwidth needs, hosting companies find its easier to just say “unlimited bandwidth” because majority of small sites will never exceed the limit.

Not to mention, unlimited bandwidth sounds like a great deal. But what they’re not telling you is that there are limits on how much of the server’s CPU (Central Processing Unit) your site can use.

If your site exceeds these limits, then a web host can temporarily shut down your site during a spike in requests, and they can also ask you to upgrade to a higher plan.

When you’re shopping for a web host, you want to pay close attention to those who offer unlimited bandwidth. Its wise to ask about their policies on CPU usage and what they’ll do if there is a spike in traffic.

How Much Bandwidth Do I Need?

It’s important for you to find the plan with the right amount of bandwidth for your site.

While it’s unnecessary to pay for more bandwidth than you need, not having enough can cause your website to go offline.

The amount of bandwidth you’ll need depends on the number and size of your pages, the number of visitors your website gets, and the number of pages each visitor looks through.

If your site is new, or you don’t have a lot of content / visitors, then you won’t need to have a large amount of bandwidth. A basic shared hosting plan from SiteGround or Bluehost can be a great option for you even if it says “unlimited bandwidth”.

But, if your website already has a large number of users and you have a lot of graphics, images, video, audio, downloadable content, and visitors, then you’ll need more bandwidth.

The easiest way to tell how much bandwidth you’ll need for an existing site is to simply login to your web host account and look at the traffic reports on your cPanel. Nearly every web host provides these kinds of reports.

If you’re unsure, then you can work with a managed WordPress hosting provider like WP Engine or Liquid Web who can guide you through making the right plan decision.

Even if you start with a smaller plan on managed hosting provider, they will not shut down your site if the bandwidth exceeds. Instead they’ll inform you and then make changes to increase your resources, so your website visitors always have the best user experience.

What Happens if I Exceed My Bandwidth?

If you’re exceeding your monthly bandwidth allowance, then usually one of the three things happen: the host may suspend your website, they can charge you overage fees, or they simply auto-upgrade your plan to the next version, so you have more bandwidth.

How Can I Reduce My Bandwidth?

If you aren’t quite ready to upgrade your hosting package, then you may want to consider reducing your site’s bandwidth. You can do this by compressing images and reducing the size of large downloads / videos on your site.

You’ll also need to think about enabling compression from HTTP, CSS, and JavaScript by using a caching plugin. You can also have your static content stored on a (CDN) Content Delivery Network near your audience which can reduce your server load.

If you’ve outgrown the bandwidth limits of your existing hosting plan, then you may want to consider upgrading to a VPS hosting, dedicated hosting, or cloud hosting package.

We hope this article helped you understand what is bandwidth and how much bandwidth you need for your website.

This post was originally published in the wpbeginner glossary.

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