What is a Gigabit?
There’s lots of talk about gigabits thanks to the rollout of faster internet services across the UK.
We need to go back in time a little here in order to understand what a bit is. Back in the early days of computing, the basic unit of computing was defined as a ‘bit’ – short for binary integer. A bit is a single digit which because it’s binary can be either zero or one.
Now zeros and ones aren’t a great deal of use on their own so you need to combine them together. Those wacky pioneers of computing decided that a number of bits together should be called a byte. By the 1960s, largely thanks to IBM, the number of bits in a byte was standardised at eight. Why eight? Because this gives you enough combinations to represent 256 different values, ranging from zero to 255. These values relate to characters in the ASCII character set so that each letter you are reading on your screen now is made up of eight bits or one byte.
32 vs 64 bit
Now at this point, you might be thinking, hold on, my computer has a 32-bit or 64-bit system, does this mean that my bytes are bigger? Well, no, your bytes are still byte sized – that is to say eight bits. The extra number of bits in the processor architecture simply allows the data to be handled more efficiently, enabling the machine to address a larger amount of memory and process more instructions each second.
Now that we understand a bit of history and we know what a byte is, what about all these Megas and Gigas and things? These are ways of dealing with the basic units in larger quantities. Starting with the first step up, kilo represents two to the power of 10 or 1024, so effectively a kilobit is 1,000 bits, a kilobyte is 1,000 bytes. Going up a step, mega is two to the power of 20 or 1,048,576, and Giga is two to the power of 30 or 1,073,741,824. What is a gigabit? So, a gigabit is a billion bits and a gigabyte is a billion bytes.
In terms of computer capacity, memory, disk storage and so forth, we usually deal in bytes, so we will talk about eight megabytes of memory or a 500-megabyte hard drive. When throwing data around networks, however, it’s still the norm to deal in bits.
Now, this is where it gets confusing so we’ll type this part slowly. You need eight gigabits to make one gigabyte – remember the bit above about bits and bytes? – So if you have an internet connection running at one gigabit per second (Gbps) it’s going to take eight seconds to transfer that amount of data.
Of course, most internet connections now operate in the megabit range with fibre broadband usually starting at around 20 Mbps. So using the rule of eight again you would be able to transfer around two and a half megabytes per second.
Down to business
While a megabit internet connection may be fine for home or small business use, when you start to operate on a larger scale it can become rather restrictive. We’re doing more and more of our computing in the cloud. We’re turning to VoIP phone systems. We’re linking our remote sites in wide area networks. For all of these things to work effectively, you need a fast connection.
Suddenly your 20 Mbps broadband doesn’t look quite so fast. This is the reason that business users are increasingly starting to switch to leased line connections. A leased line gives you a fibre connection to your business and can operate at up to gigabit speeds depending on the technology used to deliver it.
The benefits of a leased line.
Leased lines also overcome many of the limitations of broadband. Where broadband is asynchronous – downloads are faster than uploads – leased lines run at equal speeds in both directions. Also where broadband is a contended connection – it’s shared with other people once it leaves your premises – a leased line is exclusive for your use, which means it’s more secure and it isn’t going to slow down at peak periods.
Leased lines are, of course, more expensive and take longer to install. If you want to take advantage of gigabit speeds, they are pricer still. Fortunately, in the UK, there is a scheme to allow companies to take advantage of faster services. Read more about the benefits a leased line can provide.
What is a Gigabit voucher
To try to encourage more businesses to move their operations to gigabit internet connections, the UK Government has introduced something called the Gigabit Voucher Scheme. This was trialled in a number of areas and has been available across the country from April 2018.
So, what is it? The Gigabit Voucher Scheme is a £200 million incentive scheme aimed at improving the fibre infrastructure across the country and increasing demand for faster services, as well as cutting the cost to end users. Under the scheme, small or medium sized businesses can get a £2,500 grant towards the cost of installing a connection that is gigabit ready. In most cases, getting these speeds will involve installing an Ethernet leased line.
Is my business eligible?
In order to qualify for the Gigabit Voucher Scheme, your business must have fewer than 250 employees, have a turnover sub €50 million and have received below £200,000 in government grants in the past 3 years. You must also install a connection that is at least 100Mbps capable and runs at least twice the speed of the existing internet connection to the business. Find out more about how the Gigabit Voucher Scheme can benefit your business.
Given these incentives, it’s little wonder more companies are asking what is a gigabit? Upgrading to a leased line under the scheme can allow businesses to make wider use of cloud services, including using as-a-service software. It can also assist with moving to VoIP-based systems in order to reduce your calling costs and get ahead of the game before the ISDN switch-off in 2025. It can also help you to scale up your business while avoiding the potential bottlenecks that can result from having a slow or unreliable connection.
If you are looking to upgrade your business connectivity anyway by moving to an Ethernet leased line, it makes sense to take advantage of the scheme and go the extra mile to get a gigabit connection.