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Upload vs. download speed: What’s the difference?

Joe Supan

Apr 28, 2021 — 5 min read

Not sure what the difference is between upload and download speeds? We break it down for you and help you figure out what speed may be right for your home.

You thought you got the fastest internet speed on the market 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.

The difference between download vs. upload speeds

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, files and audio to your device. Activities such as listening to music on Spotify, downloading large files or streaming videos on Netflix all require you to download data.

Upload speed refers to how fast 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 on Zoom require fast upload speeds for you to send data to someone else’s server.

What is a good download speed?

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, internet users and their online activities in your home can change what’s considered a good download speed for your household.

The way we use the internet has changed since the pandemic. We now work and learn from home, in addition to playing heavily detailed online games. Now, anything over 100 Mbps is considered “fast” internet.

A good rule of thumb is to have a plan that supplies about 25 Mbps per person in your home, so while one person is video-conferencing, another can play an online game, all without interrupting each other. 

For an example of speed use, video game console manufacturers suggest at least 3 Mbps of download speed and 0.5 Mbps to 1 Mbps of upload speed to enable your game to run without lag or glitches.

To run a video conference on an application like Zoom, 1.5 Mbps is recommended, but 10 to 20 Mbps will make the experience more seamless. To stream Hulu, Netflix, Sling TV and other services, you should have a minimum download of 25 Mbps. Keep in mind if you have more than one person simultaneously streaming, 50 Mbps or more will be necessary.

What is a good upload speed?

Upload speeds of 3 Mbps are considered good 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. 

For example, if you have several devices in your household uploading at once, you should consider plans with 10 Mbps of upload speed or higher. Upload speed will determine how someone hears/sees you during video conferences, how fast it takes to upload your video to TikTok and more. 

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 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 go faster and allows 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 various 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 and upload speed offers from top ISPs

Many internet providers offer internet plans with faster download speeds than upload. For instance, AT&T download and upload internet speeds can have as much as an 400 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 heavily on 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.

Activities that rely on download speed

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

Activities that rely on upload speed

Some activities do require a bit of upload bandwidth, though. Without adequate bandwidth, some of the following activities could result in 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

Use a speed test to check your download and upload 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.

Your speed test results:

Download Speeds

888 Mbps

Upload Speeds

88 Mbps


Need more for the price?

Try these helpful hacks to improve your internet speed. Or if you just want more bang for your buck, check out providers near you with more speed for the price. Either way, we’ll help you find what you need.

View providers near me Rather chat? Give us a call: (844) 451-2720
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Pro Tip: For best results, use an Ethernet cord to connect your router or modem directly to your device before you run the test.

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.

Joe Supan

Written by:

Joe Supan

Senior Writer, Broadband Content

Joe Supan is the senior writer for Allconnect and MyMove. He has helped build the proprietary metrics used on Allconnect’s review pages, utilizing thousands of data points to help readers navigate these comple… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

Read bio