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The Difference Between Upload and Download Speeds: Why It Matters

When you’re online, you do two things: send data and receive data. Sending is called uploading, and receiving is called downloading. So when you shop for an internet service provider, the speed you’re buying is the rate at which you will be able to perform the tasks you want to complete.

To choose the right speed, you need to know just what you need your internet to do for you. Let’s explore the ins and outs, ups and downs of uploading and downloading and internet speed in general. That will help you make smart decisions.

What Do Download and Upload Mean?

These are typical downloads:

  • Loading web pages like your email, social media, shopping sites, search engines, banks
  • Streaming media content like movies, videos, music
  • Receiving files such as documents, photos, videos

These are typical uploads:

  • Sending your data to a shopping site, bank, insurance provider, credit card company
  • Video chatting
  • Sending photos, documents, videos and posting on social media
  • Backing up your data to the cloud
  • Web hosting
  • Gaming

How Does Speed Apply?

Internet speed is measured in megabits per second (Mbps). That expresses the rate of data transfer into your home to your router and devices, then the rate of data you send from your home network. The internet connection operates just like a two-way street for incoming and outgoing traffic.

There may be a difference between upload and download speed in your data connection. In this two-way street, you may have a different speed limit for inbound and outbound traffic (asymmetrical) or the same speed in both directions (symmetrical). Typically, symmetrical speed is available only with fiber internet service, not with copper wired service.

Why You Need Faster Uploads Now

While download speed requirements have been top of mind for internet service providers, things may change now that more and more people are working and learning from home. Different functions are necessary to conduct business, to send work files, to send school projects. Keep an eye out for the service that will work best for you.

The average internet user downloads way more data than the amount he or she uploads. For example, the average user may download a lot of video content, movies, and TV shows, but usually send out very short videos or pictures instead of a feature-length movie.

The greatest demand for higher upload speeds is in offices and lately in households with people who are either working or learning from home, and need to send big files. The shift in the way we are working from home could change your mind about the kind of internet service you need.

Better faster fiber ad
Better faster fiber ad

What Factors Affect Download and Upload Internet Speeds?

  • Connection: This refers to the way your computer accesses the internet (either via Wi-Fi or through a physical cable). If you use a wireless connection or connect using your cellphone as a hotspot, the performance will be significantly lower than if your computer has a physical connection to the modem or router.
  • Configuration: Based on where you live and the services available in your area, your internet service provider offers you a certain level of service and different prices. You may be choosing from copper services to high speed to fiber. Ask your service representative what will work best for your needs. Another factor is whether your service is symmetrical or asymmetrical.
  • Location: The internet speed is also affected by the location of the remote source, or a device like a modem or printer, that is available for shared use in the network. Remember that any exchange between your computer and the source of the content has to go to multiple servers and internet routes and at every step there may be a myriad of performance limiting factors. Placing your router in a central location in your home is one way to improve performance
  • Demand on the network: Just like regular traffic on the road, at certain peak times there is a higher volume of data going back and forth and this slows down the overall internet speed in your area, both if you are downloading or uploading data.

Measure with Upload and Download Speed Tests

There are many companies that measure your internet speed for free. When you run the test, your computer sends out a “test packet” of data to a server, which in turn sends the same “test packet” back to the sender and determines the speed of each segment of the round trip in terms of Mbps.

The test itself is very simple and usually takes less than a minute to complete.

A word of caution: Although these tests do not require the installation of any software on your computer, some companies may offer you an application for purchase that would help boost your internet speed. Unless you know the company and that is exactly what you want, be careful before installing anything.

In general, if your internet service doesn’t seem “sluggish” and you don’t have to wait forever to download pictures, or if you can stream movies without interruptions or unexpected pauses, your internet speed works well for you. But if you need you faster upload speeds, it may be time to think about fiber (if it’s available in your area.)


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