Megabits vs. Megabytes

Bytes, bits, gigabytes, kilobytes, terabits, Mbps. What does it all mean? And how are we supposed to keep them all straight? The difference between megabits and megabytes is a popular question among Internet users.


A bit (b) is a unit for Internet speed. Megabits are the most common variation of the unit and are often called “megs” or “Mbps” which stands for megabits per second. It refers to the time it takes to complete a task a user requests on the Internet. These tasks can include loading a webpage, streaming a movie or television show, watching video clips and sharing digital files.

High-Speed Internet providers offer plans with varying speeds, or Mbps. Other Internet providers, such as most dial-up providers, can only offer speeds measured in kilobits per second, or kbps. Based on your Internet usage, i.e. how much time you spend on the Internet and what you do, you should choose a plan with enough megs to satisfy your Internet needs.

For an idea of how these Internet speeds translate into your usage, here are some examples of Internet tasks and the speed they require.

  • Standard Streaming: 3 Mbps
  • HD Streaming: 5 Mbps
  • Online Gaming: 5 Mbps


In addition, because a bit is a unit of measure for Internet speed, all of the variations of the word with prefixes refer to different amounts of bits.

  • 1000 bits= 1 kilobit (kb)
  • 1000 kilobits= 1 megabit (Mb)
  • 1000 megabits = 1 gigabit (Gb)



A byte (B) is a unit for data size. It is used to measure the size of a file, such as a video or photo, on your electronic device. Different requests require different bytes. Average usage often uses megabytes or gigabytes.

Most DSL, cable, and Fiber Optic providers offer plans with virtually unlimited bytes. Satellite Internet connections and hot spots have data caps in their plans that limit Internet usage.

Here are some examples of Internet tasks and the bytes they need to succeed, measured in gigabytes (GB).

  • 5 Hours of Standard Definition Movies = 1.05 GB
  • 170 Hours of Chat and Social Media Websites = 1 GB
  • 6880 Emails = 1 GB


Just like bits, bytes are measured in units in multiples of 1000, represented by prefixes.

  • 1000 bytes = 1 kilobyte (kB)
  • 1000 kilobytes = 1 megabyte (MB)
  • 1000 megabytes = 1 gigabyte (GB)