Megabits and Megabytes are used in digital space to measure the size of data or digital information. They sound similar but yet different since they are used in different context. Converting Megabits to Megabytes is quite easy and it just needs division by 8. Usually, Megabits is used in connection with measuring network speed, whereas Megabytes is used for measuring the capacity of a storage device or the size of a file. That means if you want to have an internet connection at your home, and you are going through different plans offered by your network vendor, you will consider the network bandwidth in Megabit per sec (Mbps). But if you want to buy a portable hard disk, you will, of course, look for Megabytes or Gigabytes.
Megabit and Megabyte are the multiples of the unit bit and byte respectively. 1 Megabit means 1000000 bits or a million bits. In the same manner, 1 Megabytes means 1000000 bytes. No matter what the prefix would be, the meaning of bit and byte will always remain same.
- Suggested read: Computer Network Speed – Learn the Fundamentals
So, as you would have understood, Mbps is an abbreviation for Megabits per second. It is often confused with MBps which stands for Megabytes per second. The two terms look and sound very similar, but there is a subtle difference of b (bits) and B (bytes) here which we will discuss shortly.
Megabit vs Megabyte
Here is a quick list of these abbreviations –
Megabyte = MB (Common way of measuring digital size or digital capacity)
Megabit = Mb
Megabytes Per Second = MBps
Megabits Per Second = Mbps (Common way of measuring network speed)
Bits vs Bytes
So, what is the difference between these two similar but yet different terminologies?
A bit is the smallest unit of data in digital storage. A set of 8 bits form a byte. So, if the size of your favorite image is 3MB, technically it is equivalent to 8×3 or 24Mb.
Similarly, a speed of 1 Mbps means that 1 million bits can be transferred in one second which is also equivalent to 1/8 or 0.125 MBps.
On the other hand, in case we measure network speed in MBps, a speed of 1 MBps means that one million bytes (or 8 million bits) can be transferred in 1 second. To convert it into Mbps, multiply the number by 8. So you get 8Mbps.
But, as said earlier, it is a common practice to express network speed in bits per sec whereas the size of a file in Bytes.
Why use Bits and Bytes?
Using two different terms (bits and bytes) causes so much confusion for the users. Why can’t everyone use bytes and eliminate all the confusion?
Bits and bytes both have usage in two different domains. When it comes to data transfer, the term ‘bits’ is predominantly used. There could be many reasons behind this.
From a marketing perspective, using bits help inflate the number. Advertising network speed as 50Mbps sounds more impressive than advertising it as 6.25MBps.
Another theory is that this is how network speed has always been measured. Since ‘bit’ is the smaller unit of digital data, reporting data transfer speed in bits makes more sense.
On the other hand, the term ‘byte’ has more prominent use in data storage. Now, you must be wondering why we cannot use bits in storage. One plausible theory for this lies in how data storage was first defined.
Historically, encoding one character of text in a computer required 8 bits or one byte. So, a ‘byte’ became the smallest addressable unit of memory and this standard has been carried forward, so far.
File download time
When subscribing to a new broadband package, we look at how fast our connection will be and how quickly we can download files. let’s say about downloading your favorite movie (legally, of course).
Let’s look at the advertised Internet speed again. A speed of 50 Mbps means that 50 million bits can be transferred in one second. So, if you are downloading a movie with a size of 1 GB (1000 MB), it will take 160 seconds when your Internet speed is constant at 50 Mbps.
Let’s do this maths:
File size: 1000MB = 1000*8 Mb = 8000Mb
Internet Speed: 50Mbps
Time taken to download: 8000/50 = 160secs
Isn’t that simple!!
The bit vs. byte conundrum is not contained till Megabits and Megabytes. The latest Ethernet technology promises a speed of 10 Gbps (Gigabit per second).
Again, this is not the same as 10 Gigabyte per second. Perform similar conversion, and you will find that this speed is equivalent to 1.25GBps or 1250MBps. Note that 1GB is equivalent to 1000 MB.
Even though 10Gbps is an impressive speed, but if confused with 10GBps, this can lead to a lot of disappointment.
10Gbps = 10/8 GBps = 1.25 GBps = 1250 MBps
Final words on megabits vs megabytes
Be careful about the advertised Internet speed. It is generally quoted in Mbps rather MBps. So be careful else you might end up paying for one-eighth of what you expected.
In fact, as a matter of fact, marketed speeds are theoretical thresholds. Because of protocol overheads and several other reasons, the actual speed your Internet connection can reach might be quite lower than the advertised number.
So, even though you contracted a broadband connection of 40Mbps, do not hope to download 5MB every second. As you have understood, bits and bytes are the units for digital information but their conventional uses are different. Use bits for measuring network speed whereas bytes for measuring the file size or the storage capacity.