Upload vs. download speed: what’s the difference?
You thought you got a lightning-fast internet speed when suddenly, you go to upload a video to Facebook and your internet slows to a crawl. Enter the spinning wheel of doom. You’ve just encountered the wrath of slow internet upload speeds.
How internet speed works
Internet speeds are measured by how much data your internet connection can transfer per second, which is megabits of data per second (Mbps). The internet speeds you see in Mbps measure the rate at which a provider delivers internet data to and from your home (commonly referred to as download speed).
Data also goes in two directions — you download and upload information from the internet, so each internet connection will have download speeds and upload speeds.
What is download speed?
Download speed refers to how many megabits of data per second it takes to download data from a server in the form of images, videos, text and more. Activities such as listening to music on Spotify, downloading large files or streaming videos on Netflix all require you to download data.
What is good download speed?
In general, speeds of at least 25 Mbps are considered good download speeds since they meet the minimum broadband threshold set by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Keep in mind though that the number of devices, your online activity and internet users in your home can change what is a good download speed for your household.
What is upload speed?
Upload speed refers to how many megabits of data per second you can send information from your computer to another device or server on the internet. While downloading information is more common, some online activities need data to travel in the opposite direction. Sending emails, playing live tournament-style video games and video calling a friend to require fast upload speeds for you to send data to someone else’s server.
What is good upload speed?
Again, in general, upstream speeds of 3 Mbps are considered good upload speeds because they meet the FCC’s minimum standard. If you or anyone in your household regularly uploads videos to YouTube or works from home, though, you may need a plan with higher upload speeds.
What is internet bandwidth?
Bandwidth is kind of like a highway—the more lanes you have, the more room you give to traveling cars, which lets cars both go faster and let a higher volume of cars through to their destination.
Mbps is a good indicator of how much bandwidth your home Wi-Fi connection has. The more internet bandwidth you have, the higher your volume of data that can be downloaded at a reasonable pace. And you can increase the speed at which the data travels because more of it can flow.
So what kind of bandwidth do you need?
When you consider what internet speeds you need for different activities, you should take into account both download and upload speeds. Depending on what your favorite online activities are, one may be more important than the other.
Download speed vs. upload speed
Many providers offer internet plans with far faster download speeds than upload. For instance, AT&T download and upload internet speeds can have as much as an 80 Mbps difference between upload vs. download speed.
Who has the fastest internet upload and download speeds
The internet speed you need depends heavily on your online activities and how many internet users you have at home.
As you think about what activities you use the internet for at home, you may decide that having fast upload speeds is more important than download speeds. You may find that you don’t really need fast upload speeds and just want fast download speeds that can handle streaming on multiple devices.
Provider internet download and upload speeds
Why internet upload speeds are slow and download speeds are fast
Most providers focus on download speed vs. upload speed because the majority of online activities need more download bandwidth than upload bandwidth. As you’ll see below, most common online activities rely more upon fast download speeds.
Since other activities that call for uploading data still require information to travel in both directions, the average person consistently needs higher download speeds than upload.
However, fiber internet connections are a unique exception. Fiber internet providers frequently offer upload internet speeds that mirror download speeds.
Upload vs. download: When download speeds matter
The following common activities rely more on download speeds:
- Watching a Netflix movie or show
- Shopping online
- Scrolling through social media
- Viewing YouTube videos
- Reading online articles
- Streaming music services
Upload vs. download: When internet upload speeds matter
Some activities do require a bit of upload bandwidth, though. Without adequate bandwidth, some of the following activities could result in users encountering slowed internet speeds or buffering:
- Video calls or conferences
- Live tournament-style gaming
- Sending emails with large attachments
- Backing up data to online or cloud storage services
- Uploading videos to social media
- Working on live, cloud-hosted documents like Google Sheets or Docs
How to check your internet speed
You can find out what your internet upload speed is and measure your download speed by using a free internet speed test. A speed test will measure both upload and download rates. We recommend testing internet speeds in multiple parts of your home to check consistency and see if you need to boost your Wi-Fi connection at home.
No matter what your results are, it’s important to note that most people do not experience maximum speeds at home. This can be attributed to the number of other people on the network who use up bandwidth, how Wi-Fi signals weaken through a home and many other factors that can slow internet speeds.