Hardly there is any internet/computer user who has not heard the term ‘Kbps.’ Likewise, it is no wonder that your eyes have ever caught the sight of the word ‘Mbps’ while scrutinizing the download speed of an internet file or transferring the files from one drive to another device.

Both the expressions ‘Kbps’ and ‘Mbps’ contain the acronym ‘bps’ which means ‘bits per second.’ So the natural query that arrives is “What is a bit?”

The discussion here will let you know the answer to this inquiry. It shall also give you some more interesting facts about how bits measure the volume of data incorporating the SI prefixes viz., kilo, mega, giga, and others.

Here is the brief overview of this discussion which will progress under the following headings.

  • What is a bit?
  • How does the concept of ‘bit’ come into being?
  • What are the applications of bits?
  • What are the SI prefixes that a bit add in?
  • What is a kilobit?
  • What is a megabit?
  • What is a gigabit?
  • What is a terabit?
  • Conclusion

Let’s begin this ‘bit-entertained’ ride here!

What is a bit?

The utterance ‘bit’ stands for binary. When you speak of ‘binary’, it signifies a system defining two possible values/digits within its domain.

These digits are zero ‘0’ and one ‘1’ which also point to ‘off-state’ and ‘on-state’ of electronic circuits respectively.

How does the concept of ‘bit’ come into being?

The analog world around you encourages the representation of continuous signals. On the other hand, the digital system [e.g., computer networking] does support discrete values only.

These discrete values are nothing but zero ‘0’ and one ‘1’ indicating ‘off-state’ and ‘on-state’ of digital devices or ‘true’ and ‘false’ in a logic respectively.

To carry out the representation of information in this digital eon, various systems are employed viz, binary, octal, hexadecimal, 1’s complements, etc.

Each of these schemes entitles ‘bit’ as the basic constructional unit of measurement of digital data.

Thus series/blocks of bits in the form of zeros and ones, as defined in each scheme represent the information digitally.

What are the applications of bits?

You can understand the importance of ‘bit’ in the digital realm by appreciating its following applications in the sphere of Computer Technology and Networking.

A digital representation of characters through ASCII code

The ASCII which denotes the American Standard Code for Information Interchange is a binary machine language.

It represents the letters, the digits, the common symbols, and some keystrokes (related to text) with defined strings of 7bits containing series 0s and 1s.

For instance, when you type “A”, this capital letter bears the 7bits ASCII code ‘100 0001.’

Thus this machine language identifies each capital and small letter and, other specified characters (related to text) distinctively with its respective assigned ASCII code, and helps to print, calculate, or to retrieve text as necessary.

Representation of IP addresses

An IP address which is of ultimate importance for an exchange of data between any two networked interfaces manifests itself using series of bits as 0s and 1s.

The IPv4 introduces a 32bit IP address while IPv6 brings in the 128bit IP address.

Digital Storage

When you prepare/save any sort of files like an image, a video or audio in any electronic/digital device like a computer, external hard disk or pen drive, the files are stored in terms of the bits or the higher magnitudes of a bit [e.g., bytes].

Transfer of data

It is a common practice to see that a user is transferring/sharing the files or information, better known as soft copies, from one device to another employing wired or wireless communication.

This digital transfer of any kind of data occurs bitwise or as blocks of bits [bytes (where 1byte is equal to 8bits)] and is measured in bits or bytes per second depending upon the speed of transfer.

Digital Communication/Networking

You will also find that data communicated to a networked printer in case of printing or to a server during downloading, and uploading files in an Internet-enabled gadget does take place in terms of bits or its bigger magnitude guided by the available bandwidth/strength of the network.

Wired communication, e.g., Ethernet links, and Fiber connections carry bits using electric signals of different voltages, and pulses of light respectively.

Wireless transmission e.g., Wi-Fi carries bits using radio signals of various frequencies.

The network speed involving such data transmission is calculated on the basis of bits (or multiples of bits) per second.

What are the SI prefixes that a bit add in?

The SI prefixes are based on the multiples of 10 raised to the powers of +1, +2 +3, +6, +9, +12, +15, etc. The powers raised to the negative values denote smaller magnitude of the basic unit of measurement.

On the other hand, the powers increased to the positive values indicate the larger magnitude of the fundamental unit of measurement.

In line with its characteristic features, the digital ‘bit’ or ‘binary’ digit adds in only the positive powers of 10 as its prefixes to enumerate the higher order of its magnitude.

Thus you will get the following SI prefixes attached with ‘bit.’

  1. Kilo [K]   (103)
  2. Mega [M]  (106)
  3. Giga [G]   (109)
  4. Tera [T]   (1012)
  5. Peta [P]   (1015)
  6. Exa [E]   (1018)

What is a kilobit?

As ‘kilo’ asserts a value of 1000, you have 1kilobit equals to 1000bits. A kilobit is shortened as Kb. The low-to-moderate rate of data transfer expresses itself in kilobit per second or kbps.

Many years ago, mainstream broadband connections used to provide 384 Kbps or 512 Kbps speed.

What is a megabit?

Since ‘mega’ refers to multiplication by 1000,000 you find 1 megabit equals to 1000,000 bits or 1000 Kb. A megabit is abbreviated as Mb.

As you see 1Mb encloses a good volume of bits, the pace of data exchange when attains a moderate-to-high rate, classifies itself in terms of Mbps or megabit per second.

In the present day, the modest & sustained data rate of 5Mbps on the internet/network connection is sufficient for uninterrupted online video streaming.

What is a gigabit?

Because ‘giga’ implies a value worth 1000,000,000 you see 1 gigabit equals to 1000,000,000 bits or 1000,000 Kb or 1000 Mb. Gigabit is condensed as Gb.

1Gb data does encapsulate a huge amount of information in terms of bits. Therefore, the attainment/availability of data exchange rate in Gbps, or gigabites per second is truly fascinating!

You may get excited to know that the NASA’s shadow network named Energy Science Network [in short ESnet] which is used for sharing huge data files across a few research organizations and limited experiment facilities around the globe, can perform data transfer at an amazing rate of 91 Gbps.

The rate of 91Gbps is about 1300 times the present average broadband speed of 6.6Mbps available at the U.S.

What is a terabit?

Given that ‘tera’ entails an increase by 1000,000,000,000 times, you get 1 terabit equals to 1000,000,000,000 bits or 1000,000,000 Kb or 1000,000 Mb or 1000 Gb. Terabit is abridged as Tb.

Yes, it is true that the currently available internet speed accessible to the common man is yet to reach the range of Gbps.

But the phenomenal progress in the field of computer science & communication technology can easily lure you to envisage the data-rate-availability in terms of Tbps at some point of time in distant future!

Conclusion

You can now realize that a bit is an ultimate constituent in handling the digital data. However, the involvement of a larger scale of bits in the environment of computer networking and digi-communication enunciates the inclusion of SI prefixes (like kilo, mega, giga, etc.) beside the word ‘bit’.

Thus you can now comprehend the existence and the importance of kilobit, megabit, gigabit, and terabit while inhaling in today’s digi-world atmosphere!

Shed off your confusion regarding a bit, a kilobit, a megabit and a gigabit. Know the definition of a bit & recognize how the SI prefixes like kilo, mega, giga, tera, etc. express the higher order of magnitudes of a bit to quantify any digital data or its rate of transfer in computer networking.