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In the context of computer networks, bandwidth refers to the amount of data moved during a specific amount of time.

Usually it is measured in bits per second (bps) or bytes per second (Bps). However, it’s more common to see ISPs and Broadband providers use Mbps (Megabits per second) or even Gbps (Gigabits per second).

Bandwidth is one of the key factors in streaming quality. If it is restricted at any point between the server and the destination, the viewer is likely to have a poor experience.

In the UK, Ofcom reports on the performance of the largest Internet providers around the country. Their 2016 report said the average download speed was 28.9 Mbps. The average upload speed was 3.7 Mbps. Both of these numbers are improved from the previous year.

Those numbers vary by provider and area of the country, with rural areas seeing significantly less bandwidth available than urban areas. However, the government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme is working to bring high-speed broadband (large bandwidth) Internet to 97% of the country.

The amount of bandwidth available continues to increase thanks to improvements in technology that also reduce costs. But the demand for high-bandwidth content such as HD, or 4k, video is also increasing.

Industry standards organisations are working to define new codecs that provide similar quality video at higher compression levels, or higher quality at the same compression. This means more data is able to be sent over the same bandwidth available today.

H.265 (or HEVC) and VP9 are two examples of video codecs designed to improve streaming over existing bandwidth. They are backed by different organisations and approach the problem from different perspectives. But their goal is the same.

The combination of smaller files for streaming and increasing bandwidth may provide enough capacity to support the growing demand for online streaming content. One thing is beyond debate. Streaming via the internet is going to increase enormously in years to come.
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