Thursday, November 24, 2011

Businessweek Can't Distinguish Bits From Bytes

The Nov. 21-27, 2011 edition of Bloomberg Businessweek incorrectly inserts the word bytes for bits in not one, but two articles (on Indian and U.S. broadband).  Big mistake: bytes typically measure downloaded and uploaded content/file size, e.g., a 2 megabyte movie trailer; bits measure transmission speed, e.g., 2 megabits per second.  Using both concepts: broadband subscribers want a fast bit rate speed so they can download large megabyte files in a short time period.

I'm particurlarly sensitive to this misconception, because many of my students make the same mistake as Businessweek. I have too many folks struggling to understand basic concepts like broadband, bandwidth, channel, bit rate, throughput, etc.  Here's a link to the course syllabus: http://www.personal.psu.edu/faculty/r/m/rmf5/Comm492%20Fall%202011.doc


Bits and bytes are similar concepts as 8 bits correspond to 1 byte.  In application we use bits and bytes differently.  Businessweek noted the problem of slow bit rates in India and the U.S., but by using the bytes measure the magazine did not make sense.  U.S. ISPs do not typically offer 15 megabytes per second service, i.e., 120 megabits per second.  The discounted broadband service offered by cable television companies to low income subscribers will deliver 1 megabit per second not 8 megabits (or 1 megabyte).  Indian broadband subscribers would not complain about getting 256 kilobyte per second service as they would 256 kilobits per second service.




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