The speed of the internet has become a staple concern in households nationwide, but what does it really entail? Internet speed is a lot like water pressure, and these days, it’s just as important.
Computers that are connected to the vast, ever-reaching internet transfer their information to one another via electronic packets, much like a drop of water. Now, think about how the higher the water pressure you have, the more drops of water you’ll have in a shorter spread of time. It’s the same concept with your internet speed: the amount of data being transferred through the connection in a span of time is the connection’s internet speed.
You can’t do much with a trickle of water leaking from your facet in the same way you can’t download, stream, or upload content with a slow internet connection. The analogy holds water and floats the importance of internet speed, but what about specific internet speed?
Upload Speed vs. Download Speed: What’s the Difference?
There’s the speed of your internet, and then there’s your download and upload speeds. When you test the speed of your internet, you’ll see that it’s broken up into these categories. You can test your speed by simply searching for a “speed test.” Google provides one with this search term and can identify your upload and download speed.
Testing your internet speed allows you to see how fast your internet is operating and how it’s handling things like Netflix, Hulu, other streaming services, and all of your internet-based activities. It’s essential to know what your current internet is running at so you’ll have something to compare it to should you decide to seek out other internet service providers for a faster speed.
Your download speed is how fast information travels from a source remotely located elsewhere on the internet to your internet-connected device. An example is accessing a social media platform like Instagram. If you use your phone to log onto Instagram, your download speed is the rate the information is traveling from their servers to your phone in order to load the feed.
The upload speed is the antithesis of the download speed. It’s how fast information goes from your device connected to the internet to another remote location on the internet. So, posting on Instagram means you’re uploading something, and your upload speed dictates how quickly your friends and followers will see your new post because of the time it takes to reach Instagram’s servers.
How Electronic Information is Measured: Taking Big Bits and Bytes
It’s crucial to get an idea as to how your internet speed is measured. Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time deciphering its accuracy and comparing your service to other providers.
The most basic unit of electronic data is called a bit. A bit is expressed as either a one or a zero, or as you’d recognize it in its greater context: the binary code. The binary code allows computers to function.
For most binary codes, eight bits are linked in a series, and as mentioned previously, are either a value of one or zero. The series of bits strung together measures to be one byte. Because there are so many potential variations in the bit’s value that make up a single byte, one byte could represent over 200 possibilities of information—256, to be exact. Bytes can pile on to create an even greater pool of variety. Zooming out even more—one billion bytes is equal to a single gigabyte. That’s a lot of digital data.
But how do bits and bytes translate into the speed of your internet? Well, when you want your computer to download or upload information, the information is being sent via bits or bytes. It takes time to send this digital information, and that time is measured in seconds. But, bits and bytes are awfully small, and there are well over 1,000 pieces of digital data being transferred in a single second. So, to measure internet speed without getting too much of a headache, it’s common practice to use larger denotations like:
- Kilobits per second (Kbps)
- Kilobytes per second (KBps)
- Megabits per second (Mbps)
- Megabytes per second (MBps)
- Gigabits per second (Gbps)
- Gigabytes per second (GBps)
These prefixes make it easier to get an idea of the bigger picture of how fast your internet speed is operating at, with kilo standing in for 1,000, mega for 1 million, and giga for 1 billion. When you see an internet provider offering their services for speeds in the range of Gbps, it’s typically because they’re using the ultra-fast, modern fiber-optic technology. It’s a great thing to have, but to go back to this analogy once more—you could be going through data like water, so keep an eye on your data usage if you’re using a fiber-optic connection.
An important note is how bandwidth is different from your internet speed, even though the two terms are mistakenly used together quite often. Bandwidth is better described as the capacity of your internet connection, whereas your internet speed is how quickly digital information is being transferred. For example, if your internet has a bandwidth of 5 Mbps, your internet speed would be capped at going that fast when it functions at its full capacity. Internet bandwidth and internet speed are two elements with their own unique set of differences and roles that contribute to your online experience that are equally important to know and understand when shopping for an internet service provider.
Which is More Important: Upload Speed or Download Speed?
There’s a good chance your download speed is much fast than your upload speed. That’s actually normal. Consumers typically download more than they upload. Think about how much you stream content, like using Netflix to watch the latest TV show, Hulu to catch a series finale, Spotify to stream music, and logging onto social media to catch up with friends. All of these activities require a fast downloading speed to keep up with the modern internet junkie. It’s a good estimation for internet service providers that their consumers will need a faster download speed, so this is the common default.
That being said, you shouldn’t discount upload speed as less important. It depends on what you’re doing with your internet usage. Having a faster upload speed means you’re likely using your internet for interactive applications like online gaming, video chat, or sharing large files on a regular basis.
For the average consumer, upload speeds aren’t as necessary, but it becomes a greater demand for corporate needs. Sending clients high-quality images, large video or file sizes, creating HD videos or photos, or utilizing video conferencing features regularly can require a fast upload speed to keep up with a business’ day-to-day operations.
The importance of either speed just depends on your needs. Are you a fierce online gamer, a YouTuber, a corporate mogul with the need to upload? Then having a fast, reliable upload speed is for you. If you’re a typical internet surfer, Netflix browser, Hulu watcher, blog reader, and social media hound, then having a faster download speed is going to be more important.