The Orange Blog

A Little Bit About Bytes

I'm sure you've all heard the term "byte" many times in your life by now. I'm going to take a few moments to explain the details and how they effect you.

We should begin with the smallest unit of measure. That's called a "bit".

Bits come in two flavors, 1 and 0. They transmit the information that something is either off, or on.

Alone this doesn't do much good, you can't get far just saying 1 or 0, but if you get 8 of these little guys together you have then created a "byte".

Those 8 bits can now create a pattern made up of ones and zeroes to represent more complex pieces of information such as the letter "a" or period at the end of sentences. The letter "a" is made up of 8 bits that look like this 01100001. See how some of the bits are saying 1 and some are saying 0? That's how the basics of "binary" data work.

From there all the higher levels of "byte" are in groups of 1,024. A kilobyte is next up from a Byte and it is a block of 1024 bytes. You may be more familiar with the megabyte and his bigger brother the gigabyte. The megabyte is 1,024 kilobytes. A gigabyte is 1,024 megabytes. If it's easier for you then you can think of them in thousands instead of 1,024 and you won't be too far off. So for example 3,016 megabytes isn't EXACTLY 3 gigabytes but it's good enough for average everyday purposes.

So now the million dollar question... how does this actually effect you and me on a daily basis? The most common way is with smart phone data plans and cable internet service providers. They often charge you based on the amount of data per second or minute that you can download. That speed is very often measured in megaBITS not megaBYTES.

Just as a bit is 1/8 the size of a byte, so is a megaBIT 1/8 the size of a megaBYTE. This means that if you thought you were signing up for 10 megabytes per second but the fine print said megaBITS then you're really only getting 1.25 megabytes per second. This is very common in internet service and cell providers to inflate the perceived value of their services. One thing to keep in mind is that a megaBYTE is noted as "MB" and a megaBIT is written as either "Mb" (notice the lowercase b) or as "Mbit".

So there you have it. A single letter or number is a byte. It takes 8 bits to make that byte, and people who want your money like to confuse you on the difference when it benefits them.

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