Download Speeds vs Upload Speeds

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Last updated: 06/30/2020
Download Speeds vs Upload Speeds

What is download speed?

Download speed is the amount of data an internet connection can receive in a single second. It’s how fast your connection loads webpages, streams video content, and downloads files.
Download speed is represented as megabits per second (Mbps) and will be the headline figure you see when you search for an internet plan. 
The average download speed for an internet connection in the United States is 132.6Mbps.
Different technologies deliver different ranges of download speeds:
  • DSL: 5-100Mbps
  • Cable: 10-1000Mbps (1Gbos)
  • Fiber: 50Mbps-1000Mbps (1Gbps)
  • Satellite: 12Mbps-100Mbps
  • Mobile: 15-30Mbps (4G), 50-60Mbps (5G, very limited coverage)
Typically, the faster your internet speed, the more you’ll pay for it. But if you compare internet providers, you can find a plan that gives you the most speed for your dollar.

What is upload speed?

Upload speed is the amount of data an internet connection can send in a single second, represented as Mbps. Upload speed matters when you’re uploading files to a remote server and sending data—for example, while video calling or gaming.
On most internet connections, the upload speed is a fraction of the download speed. This reflects the way most people use the internet, receiving more content than they send. The exception is fiber connections, which are typically symmetrical, meaning they deliver equal download and upload speeds.

Your upload speed will depend on your internet technology:
  • DSL: 1-10Mbps
  • Cable: 2-50Mbps
  • Fiber: usually symmetrical
  • Satellite: 2-3Mbps
  • Mobile: 2-5Mbps (4G)

How much internet speed do you need?

You might be tempted to spring for the fastest internet plan available for your address, but typically the more speed a plan offers, the more expensive it is. And a 1Gbps connection will be excessive to the needs of many households. To limit your costs, try to only buy the amount of speed you actually need.
But how do you figure out how much speed you need? You should consider what you usually do on the internet. Activities like streaming HD video, online gaming, video calling, and downloading large files require more speed. Simply checking your email and online shopping require less.

You should also consider many people, and devices, are sharing your connection. Your connection can only receive a certain amount of data in a second. That bandwidth will be split among all the users logged onto the connection. So if your boyfriend is gaming, your roommate streaming Netflix, and your smart refrigerator communicating with your smart oven, the amount of bandwidth available to you will be reduced, slowing your own browsing.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 100Mbps is an adequate speed for a family of four regularly doing data-intensive tasks like streaming video. But other households might need more heft behind their internet.
This guide can help you benchmark how much internet speed you need:
  • casual internet users, primarily using the internet to browse webpages and check their email; often seniors: <15Mbps downstream
  • moderate internet users, surfing the web and occasionally streaming video: 15-50Mbps downstream
  • binge-watchers, frequently streaming HD video content: 50+ Mbps downstream
  • busy families of internet users, with many people and devices using the connection simultaneously: 100+ Mbps downstream
  • remote workers: 100+ Mbps downstream and ideally a symmetrical connection
  • online gamers: 200+Mbps downstream and ideally a symmetrical connection

Why might you want more upload speed?

Internet connections are designed as asymmetrical to reflect the way most people use the internet. You’re downloading content when you stream Netflix and load webpages. You’re generally uploading content only when you post images to social media. However, certain internet activities require more upload speed.

Video calling requires you to send video and sound as you’re receiving it. If your connection doesn’t have enough upload speed, the people on the other end of the line will receive glitchy, stalling video of you, even if their connection is up to snuff.

You also need upload firepower if you game online. All your moves and shots are sent, or uploaded, in packets of data over the internet. If your upload speed is too slow, your moves will register too late. Remote workers, who need to make video calls and upload files to remote servers, will also want a connection with adequate upload oomph. 
If you’re one of these internet users, you’ll want to consider the upload speed of any connection you sign up for. It’s usually stated in the advertising, although not as prominently as the download speed will be. You’ll usually need to sign up for a symmetrical fiber internet plan, or, if that isn’t available in your neighborhood yet, a faster tier of cable connection to get enough upload speed.

How much speed will you actually receive?

Unfortunately, you may not always receive the download or upload speeds advertised with your plan. This is for a variety of factors. With DSL and cable connections, both download and upload speeds decrease over distance, so the farther you live from your ISP’s local hub, the slower your connection will be. This is a particular concern for remote and rural homes. If you're worried, ISPs are often able to give you an estimate of the speed you’ll actually receive at your property. 
Additionally, speeds may be slowed by network congestion, particularly in peak evening hours when all your neighbors are using streaming services.
Fiber connections perform better: they don’t lose speed over distance or due to network traffic, so you’re more likely to receive all the speed you were promised.

In some cases, it’s not your connection that’s slowing your internet so much as your home equipment. Your router might be aging or badly positioned, meaning your WiFi signal isn’t as strong, or your older laptop might be struggling to connect to or cope with higher speeds.
To see the download and upload speeds you’re currently receiving, use an online internet speed checker.
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