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Ask HTG: How Much Could I Download if I Maxed My Internet Connection for a Month?

You’ve probably never even attempted it, but wouldn’t it be a fun experiment? How much could you download from the Internet if you put the pedal down and maxed out your connection for an entire month?

Dear How-To Geek,

I loved the NES zapper question and answer. You mentioned in that response that you like fun geeky questions, so here’s one for you. How much could I download in a single month if I completely maxed out my internet connection? I figure that’s pretty impractical in application and I don’t even know what I’d download for a whole month straight, but how much would it be if I did? According to my ISP (and this jives with the test I ran at speedtest.net), my internet speed is 35 Mb/s.

Sincerely,

Download Curious

This is a fun little question and a question we can solve with some good old fashion math. First, let’s lay down some parameters we can use to begin constructing our calculation.

The very first thing we need to do is translate the data transfer speed to the same notation used for data storage. For you see, data transfer is measured in bits and data storage is measured in bytes. For a closer look at that subject, check out this previous Ask HTG question. Suffice to say, in order to get from bits (the smallest measurement of data) to bytes (units of 8 bits) we need to divide by 8. As such, your 35 megabyte per second data connection can provide, under ideal conditions, 4.375 megabytes of data every second. For all those readers following along at home, just divide your advertised or speed-tested internet speed by 8 (e.g. 20 Mb/s advertised speed becomes 2.5 MB/s).

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For the sake of this exercise, we’re going to assume that you would have access to some sort of data stream that would allow you to totally saturate your connection for long periods of time (like you’re using Usenet with thousands of television shows queued up in your TV show organizer/downloader). Since we’ve already calculated what the ideal-conditions saturation of your bandwidth pipeline looks like, the rest of the math is pretty simple.

The number of days per month is variable, but the pure average is 30.42 (which we’re going to round down to a neat 30), there’s 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, and 60 seconds in a minute. We can easily convert your transmission-to-storage rate using those numbers. Your download rate would be:

Per Minute: 262.5 megabytes

Per Hour: 15.75 gigabytes

Per Day: 378 gigabytes

Per Week: 2.65 terabytes

Per Month: 10.58 terabytes

So there you have it. Assuming optimum conditions: you have a source of data large enough to saturate your connection, you have no outages or connection issues, and you have a little home server at the end of the pipe that can store the bounty of your binge, you could download a whopping 10.58 terabytes of raw data in our happy hypothetical scenario.

Note: For the sake of simplicity, we’ve ignored “protocol overhead”, the portion of that raw data (the amount of which varies based on the protocol and the size of the data being transferred) which is not the actual file you’re downloading but the transmission related data like start and stop bits, parity bits, etc. Because of this overhead you wouldn’t actually have 10.58 terabytes worth of usable data at the end of the month, but a portion of that based on the efficiency of the protocol/transfer method. 

Now, whether your ISP would be happy about that is a totally different story. While you didn’t specify who your server provider was, let’s assume it’s Comcast, as they’re the largest broadband provider with approximately 18 million customers. Although Comcast doesn’t have a national policy for data caps, they have been testing data caps in locales around the U.S. including in Alabama and Texas.

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Under their test-market data caps, customers are limited to 300GB per month. Using our hypothetical model above, based on your ideal-conditions internet speed, you’d blow through the cap in about 19 hours, and if they let you run wild until the end of the month before freaking out about your data use, you’d have exceeded the cap by a whopping 3,527%.

When you crunch the numbers like that and compare them to the data caps, it becomes pretty clear that ISPs are offering you an all you can eat buffet where you’re only allowed to take one plate.


Have a pressing tech question? Shoot us an email at ask@howtogeek.com and we’ll do our best to answer it.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/13/14

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