The Difference Between Monthly Transfer and Bandwidth


You’ve already pulled out all your hair trying to design the perfect website. Now, you must find a cheap web hosting company. You’ve done your research and chosen the best web hosting company for your site, but they’re asking you technical questions about monthly transfer and bandwidth. Do you know the difference between the two? Do you know which one will best support your website?

Be sure to read about the difference between bandwidth and speed. It will help increase your knowledge, but as for now, let’s go a step further and look at monthly transfer and monthly bandwidth. They may seem like the same thing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

What is bandwidth?

In it’s purest form, the true definition of bandwidth is most easily defined as the amount of data that can be transferred from one place to another at a given moment. Let’s break that down a bit. Currently, megabits per second, or Mbps, most commonly measure bandwidth. Therefore, bandwidth tells how much data CAN travel from Point A to Point B in a second, but not necessarily how much data WILL travel.

Keep in mind, bandwidth isn’t the same as speed, but it does contribute to the speed of a webpage loading. It merely describes the amount of data that can travel together. For example, let’s consider lines at an amusement park. Some amusement park lines are single-lane and other lines offer six lanes. At the same second in the single-lane ride, one person can travel from Point A to Point B. In the six-lane line, six people can do the same. The six-lane line has a higher bandwidth.

Unfortunately, in the world of shared hosting, a precedent was set many years ago which co-mingled the definition of “bandwidth” with “data transfer” and the hosting industry never looked back. In other words, many shared hosting plans and control panels refer to “monthly bandwidth” when what they really should be advertising is “monthly transfer.” These terms typically  convey the same meaning when the discussion involves shared hosting. It is possible that someday that will change.

Memory and storage

Just as monthly transfer and bandwidth have been misconstrued, the same confusion occurs with the terms, memory and storage. When your computer runs out of room and you can no longer add files, leads to a common misconception. You call up tech support claiming your computer is out of memory. In reality, it is merely the hard drive that is full. I’m going to go out on a limb to blame this result on the rise of smartphones. We are accustomed to miniature computers which happen to have memory cards that run out of memory. The same thing must be true for computers, right? By all means, no. Both cases are wrong, both hard drives and flash drives should be referred to as storage.  As a result, we have a bunch of confused people because of it! Anyways, back to the point…

What is monthly transfer?

How do monthly transfer and bandwidth differ, then? When you break it down, monthly transfer refers to the total amount of data transferred during a given month. Most hosting packages set a limit on how much data transfer to allow in a given month. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t transfer more data than your limit, just that you may be suspended, slowed down, or may need to upgrade to a higher level hosting package, depending on your web hosting company’s or other ISP’s rules. Many people witness this every month with their smart phone data plans.

Most plans have monthly transfer limits and will charge you extra or slow your speeds if you exceed your transfer limit. Web hosts typically have similar plans. There are, however, some web hosting plans that offer un-metered and unlimited monthly transfer. For marketing purposes, web-hosting companies word the terms differently. Additionally, each host has their own rules for what this means.

Is anything unlimited

The reality is, there is nothing unlimited in the world of hosting. If you elect these types of plans, other restrictions listed in the Terms of Services, are possible. Make sure you understand the rules for “unlimited” plans before purchasing. Typically, unlimited plans are the lowest level of service one can buy at a shared hosting provider. Try to avoid these packages for anything other than a hobby site and definitely do not use them for business, especially if your business relies on your web site and email to operate. On the other side of the coin, if your business’ web site is more of a brochure type -site, and perfect up-time and performance are not critical, this type of plan might be just fine for your needs.

Comparing monthly transfer and bandwidth


As you can see in the above examples, monthly transfer and bandwidth share a connection while remaining independently unique. How do you know what your website needs? You have to evaluate what you plan to do with your website. Websites that move a lot of data at a time (high bandwidth clients) probably want to get a web hosting plan with a high monthly transfer limit as well. These websites include, although not limited to, websites that stream video, have popular forums, or host image galleries. These kinds of websites transfer a lot of data at a time. If you have a low-trafficked, informational blog set up for clients without photos or videos (low bandwidth), you probably would want to consider something with a lower monthly transfer limit.

You might even qualify for an unmetered or unlimited plan if you are not using the hosting package to store your entire life’s video and MP3 collection. Remember, as your usage increases and your demand for higher reliability increases, you can always upgrade to a package with a higher level of speed, transfer, service level and up-time guarantee. Perhaps unlimited or shared hosting isn’t cutting it for you. There are many great alternative options available to you before you become the next Amazon of the world.

If you have questions about how much monthly transfer and bandwidth you need, it is good to ask your current web host what kind of usage you have been using historically.  Are you just starting out? Start with an entry level plan, because traffic almost never happens over night. This will allow you to upgrade as your site becomes more popular and more profitable.  If you have more questions, feel free to contact us, and we’ll help you select a plan that’s right for you.