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All you need to know about Bit Rates

In telecommunications and computing, bit rate (sometimes written bitrate, data rate or as a variable R) is the number of bits that are conveyed or processed per unit of time.

 

The bit rate is quantified using the bits per second (bit/s or bps) unit, often in conjunction with an SI prefix such as kilo- (kbit/s or kbps), mega- (Mbit/s or Mbps), giga- (Gbit/s or Gbps) or tera- (Tbit/s or Tbps). Note that, unlike many other computer-related units, 1 kbit/s is traditionally defined as 1,000-bit/s, not 1,024-bit/s, etc., also before 1999 when SI prefixes were introduced for units of information in the standard IEC 60027-2. Uppercase K as in Kbit/s or Kbps should never be used.

The formal abbreviation for "bits per second" is "bit/s" (not "bits/s", see writing style for SI units). In less formal contexts the abbreviations "b/s" or "bps" are often used, though this risks confusion with "bytes per second" ("B/s", "Bps"). 1 Byte/s (Bps or B/s) corresponds to 8-bit/s (bps or b/s).


Protocol layers

Information rate

The physical layer net bitrate, information rate, useful bit rate, payload rate, net data transfer rate, coded transmission rate, effective data rate or wire speed (informal language) of a digital communication channel is the capacity excluding the physical layer protocol overhead, for example time division multiplex (TDM) framing bits, redundant forward error correction (FEC) codes, equalizer training symbols and other channel coding. Error-correcting codes are common especially in wireless communication systems, broadband modem standards and modern copper-based high-speed LANs. The physical layer net bitrate is the datarate measured at a reference point in the interface between the datalink layer and physical layer, and may consequently include data link and higher layer overhead.

In modems and wireless systems, link adaptation (automatic adaption of the data rate and the modulation and/or error coding scheme to the signal quality) is often applied. In that context, the term peak bitrate denotes the net bitrate of the fastest and least robust transmission mode, used for example when the distance is very short between sender and transmitter. Some operating systems and network equipment may detect the "connection speed" (informal language) of a network access technology or communication device, implying the current net bit rate. Note that the term line rate in some textbooks is defined as gross bit rate, in others as net bit rate.

For example, the net bitrate (and thus the "connection speed") of a IEEE 802.11a wireless network is the net bit rate of between 6 and 54 Mbit/s, while the gross bit rate is between 12 and 72 Mbit/s inclusive of error-correcting codes.

The net bit rate of ISDN2 Basic Rate Interface (2 B-channels + 1 D-channel) of 64+64+16 = 144 kbit/s also refers to the payload data rates, while the D channel signalling rate is 16 kbit/s.

The net bit rate of the Ethernet 100Base-TX physical layer standard is 100 Mbit/s, while the gross bitrate is 125 Mbit/second, due to the 4B5B (four bit over five bit) encoding. In this case, the gross bit rate is equal to the symbol rate or pulse rate of 125 Mbaud, due to the NRZI line code.

In communications technologies without forward error correction and other physical layer protocol overhead, there is no distinction between gross bit rate and physical layer net bit rate. For example, the net as well as gross bit rate of Ethernet 10Base-T is 10 Mbit/s. Due to the Manchester line code, each bit is represented by two pulses, resulting in a pulse rate of 20 Mbaud.

The "connection speed" of a V.92 voiceband modem typically refers to the gross bit rate, since there is no additional error-correction code. It can be up to 56,000-bit/s downstreams and 48,000-bit/s upstreams. A lower bit rate may be chosen during the connection establishment phase due to adaptive modulation - slower but more robust modulation schemes are chosen in case of poor signal-to-noise ratio. Due to data compression, the actual data transmission rate or throughput (see below) may be higher.

The channel capacity, also known as the Shannon capacity, is a theoretical upper bound for the maximum net bitrate, exclusive of forward error correction coding, that is possible without bit errors for a certain physical analog node-to-node communication link.

Net bit rate  ≤ Channel capacity

The channel capacity is proportional to the analog bandwidth in hertz. This proportionality is called Hartley's law. Consequently the net bit rate is sometimes called digital bandwidth capacity in bit/s.

Network throughput

The term throughput, essentially the same thing as digital bandwidth consumption, denotes the achieved average useful bit rate in a computer network over a logical or physical communication link or through a network node, typically measured at a reference point above the datalink layer. This implies that the throughput often excludes data link layer protocol overhead. The throughput is affected by the traffic load from the data source in question, as well as from other sources sharing the same network resources. See also Measuring network throughput.

Goodput (data transfer rate)

Goodput or data transfer rate refers to the achieved average net bit rate that is delivered to the application layer, exclusive of all protocol overhead, data packets retransmissions, etc. For example, in the case of file transfer, the goodput corresponds to the achieved file transfer rate. The file transfer rate in bit/s can be calculated as the file size (in bytes), divided by the file transfer time (in seconds), and multiplied by eight.

As an example, the goodput or data transfer rate of a V.92 voiceband modem is affected by the modem physical layer and data link layer protocols. It is sometimes higher than the physical layer data rate due to V.44 data compression, and sometimes lower due to bit-errors and automatic repeat request retransmissions.

If no data compression is provided by the network equipment or protocols, we have the following relation:

Goodput  ≤ Throughput  ≤ Maximum throughput  ≤ Net bit rate

for a certain communication path.

Multimedia encoding

In digital multimedia, bit rate often refers to the number of bits used per unit of playback time to represent a continuous medium such as audio or video after source coding (data compression). The encoding bit rate of a multimedia file is the size of a multimedia file in bytes divided by the playback time of the recording (in seconds), multiplied by eight.

Multimedia

In digital multimedia, bitrate represents the amount of information, or detail, that is stored per unit of time of a recording. The bitrate depends on several factors:

Generally, choices are made about the above factors in order to achieve the desired trade-off between minimizing the bitrate and maximizing the quality of the material when it is played.

If lossy data compression is used on audio or visual data, differences from the original signal will be introduced; if the compression is substantial, or lossy data is decompressed and recompressed, this may become noticeable in the form of compression artifacts. Whether these affect the perceived quality, and if so how much, depends on the compression scheme, encoder power, the characteristics of the input data, the listener's perceptions, the listener's familiarity with artifacts, and the listening or viewing environment.

 3D animation oriented program 

The bitrates in this section are approximately the minimum that the average listener in a typical listening or viewing environment, when using the best available compression, would perceive as not significantly worse than the reference standard:

Audio

MP3

Other audio

Video

Notes

For technical reasons (hardware/software protocols, overheads, encoding schemes, etc.) the actual bitrates used by some of the compared-to devices may be significantly higher than what is listed above. For example:

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