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Megabytes vs Megabits per sec (MB vs Mbps)

May 11, 2018

Megabytes vs Megabits per sec (MB vs Mbps)

Mega-Bytes (MB) Storage Capacity versus Mega-Bits per sec (Mbps) Data Transfer Speed are interchanged frequently albeit without serious misunderstanding. Nevertheless, we decided to clarify the precise differences between Mega Byte (MB) and Mega Bit Per Second (Mbps) in this blog post for you.

"Mega Bytes" (or sometimes written as megabytes) are usually referred to the memory capacity in a hardware like a memory card or a cell phone. "Megabits" (or sometimes written as mega bits) are usually referred to the speed of data being transferred wirelessly as in Mega bits per second (Mbps). Want to know why? Read on to find out more.

Do you tend to overestimate your Internet speeds? Are you tired of complaining to your ISP about poor downloading speeds?

Internet and everything related to it is so vast like an ocean, that as an end user, all you want is for your video to not buffer, your image to load properly, and your server to not time out while fetching almost any web page connected to the Web. Knowing the difference between megabits and megabytes will equip you with enough consumer power to guarantee credibility when talking to others or when negotiating the quality of Internet that you're paying for.

Without much ado, let us get started on debunking the perpetual air of confusion surrounding Mbps and MBps or megabits and megabytes.

If you're downloading a 250 MB movie file from Internet, you're looking at 250 Megabytes of data stored somewhere on a server. Through your Internet, this entire data will get stored on 250 Megabytes of space on your local disk. Note that we always measure the size of internet files (media, text, webpage, documents) in terms of Bytes, KB or kilobytes (1 KB = 1000 Bytes), MB or Megabytes (1 MB = 1000 Kilobytes), and GB or Gigabytes (1 GB = 1000 Megabytes).

If you scrutinize closely, each of these units of measure is a larger measure for a byte. A byte is stored on a piece of physical memory (chips, hard disks, etc.) as 8 electrical signals. Each of these 8 electrical signals can either be in an on or an off state. Each of these electrical signals is known as a bit.

Hence they say, 1 byte = 8 bits.

For storage, it CANNOT get smaller than a bit. In fact, it only gets bigger.

  • 1 byte = 12^0 bytes = 1 byte = 8 bits.
  • 1 kilobyte = 2^10 bytes = 1024 bytes = 8192 bits.
  • 1 Megabyte = 2^10 kilobytes = 2^100 bytes = 1,048,576 bytes = 8388608 bits!

I hope it is clear by now as to why Megabytes, or an M with a capital B, is the worthwhile unit to measure the size of a file or data storage.

Coming to the speed of the very Internet that will get you that file from the server, it is measured in Megabits per second. Your internet speed has always been measured, displayed, and marketed as Megabits per second or an M with a small b. (Notice how the alphabets assume an upper and a lower case in case of Megabytes and megabits respectively). Back in the 1970s, modems with a network transmission capacity of 300 bits per second were sold. This quickly escalated to a 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) Ethernet in the 80s and 1.54 Mbps T1 lines in early 2000s. When we say Mbps, we're still talking about Megabits per second.

Why rely on different units of measurement when both of them are interconvertible?

Because the thing with storage capabilities and devices is that they are, and will always be manufactured in powers of 2, such as a 10-kilobyte chip, a 500 Megabyte pen drive, a 1 Gigabyte hard disk.

Whereas internet speeds, since time immemorial, have always been denoted as powers of 10, from 10 megabits per second megabits/second, or Mbps to 100 Megabits per second. Keeping it simple to the lowest unit of measurement makes it is easier to denote and present them and apply their measurements to different aspects of networking interchangeably.

Actual Difference between Megabits and Megabytes.

It will be now easier for you to understand that, as stated on so many internet resources, the difference between Megabits and Megabytes surpasses the lower case B and the upper case B.

Essentially, 1 Megabit = 10^3 bits or one million bursts of electrical signals.* On the other hand, 1 Megabyte = 2^100 bytes = 8 * 2^100 bits or that many bursts of electrical signal.*

In simple terms, if you divide Megabits by 8, you get Megabytes. If you multiply Megabytes by 8, you get Megabits.**

How do you calculate time it will take to download files at your current internet speed?

It is simple. Just take your file size in Megabytes or MBs and multiply it by 8. This will give you a large number which is your file size in Megabits or Mbs. Now, divide this figure by your current internet speed (which is in Megabits per second) and voila! You get the number of second in which you will have your file.

For instance, for a file of 250 MB, you take 2000 Mb (250 * 8) as the total file size. Assuming your internet download speed is 50 Mbps, you will have the file on your system in 2000/50 or 40 seconds!

How to put this knowledge to good use?

The next time your ISP or any hotshot person working in networking tries to impress you with a 50 Mbps connection claiming to download your 250 MB movie in less than 5 seconds, tell them it is not in Megabytes that they are selling their internet. They’re doing it in Megabits.


* Anderson, Benedetti, Head First Networking: A Brain-Friendly Guide, O’Reilly.

**Carpenter, Cwna Cert Wireless Net Admin, Mc Graw Hill Education.

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  • People seem to think I know a lot about electronics because I can set up their TVs or computers, but plug-and-play is easy. Megabytes vs. megabits has been confusing since I first heard of them. They seem so similar but they are two different things. I’ve broken it down by figuring bytes vs. bits rather than megabytes vs. megabits.

    A.J. Moreno on
  • Superclear post, thanks a lot for clarifying this.

    Bengt Nilsson on
  • The datarate is pretty straightforward.

    The capacity has always confused me a bit though. If it’s always a power of two and 1 MB is actually 1,024 KB, then wouldn’t it be impossible for a drive to be 500 MB or 10 kB per your example, but rather it would have to be 512 MB or 8 kB, respectively?

    Also to point out, 2^10 * 2^10 = 2 ^20. So 1 MB = 2^20 bytes, not 2^100.

    Jon on
  • I’ve heard of megabytes (I’ve taken some computer classes years ago). However, I wasn’t sure how a megabit compares to a megabyte. I also didn’t know anything about mb/s to mbps conversions and how it affects your Internet speeds. I’ve talked to my Internet provider and never had a clear idea how this stuff works or what it really means. I’m no mathematician, but I think I’m on the way to understanding this clearly.

    Jeffrey Hanover on
  • Thanks for simplifying this and giving me a better idea of what the differences are with things like mbps meanings, megabit vs. megabytes, and so on. Honestly, why doesn’t the communication industry make things easy to understand? I think they intentionally keep consumers in the dark so they don’t know what to believe whether it’s how strong their cell phone signal is or how fast their “high-speed” Internet is. Definitely would like to see some easy-to-understand standards.

    Byron Hillsdale on
  • I had no idea what the deal was with megabytes vs. megabits. Some of this technical jargon has me scratching my head, but this blog helped steer me in the right direction. It’s more a deal of how to convert megabytes to megabits per second. Thanks for the formula on clarifying download times and explaining the difference.

    Bobby Larson on

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