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Download vs. upload speed: what’s the difference?

BY Nicole George | Fri Jan 25, 2019
Download vs. upload 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 sluggish pace. Enter the rotating load circle 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.

Data also goes in two directions — you download and upload information from the internet, so each internet connection will have download and upload speeds.

What does download speed mean?

Some online activities require you to download data from a server in the form of images, videos, text and more. Activities such as streaming music, downloading large files and streaming videos all require you to download data. So, to do it quickly, you need fast download speeds, which is how many megabits of data per second that you can download information from the internet.

What does upload speed mean?

Some online activities need data to travel in the opposite direction. Activities such as sending emails, playing live tournament-style games and video calling a friend require you to send data to someone else’s server. To send the data quickly, you need fast upload speeds, which is how many megabits of data per second that you can upload information to the internet.

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 internet speeds than upload speeds. For instance, AT&T download and upload internet speeds can have as much as an 80 Mbps difference between top download and upload rates.

Wondering what AT&T’s download and upload speeds are? What kind of upload and download speeds XFINITY offers? Check out our download and upload speeds by provider table below.

Provider internet download and upload speeds

ProviderDownload speedUpload speed
AT&T25 Mbps5 Mbps
AT&T75 Mbps20 Mbps
AT&T100 Mbps20 Mbps
Cox10 Mbps1 Mbps
Cox100 Mbps10 Mbps
Cox300 Mbps30 Mbps
Spectrum100 Mbps5 or 10 Mbps
Spectrum400 Mbps20 Mbps
Spectrum940 Mbps35 Mbps
XFINITY15 Mbps2 Mbps
XFINITY150 Mbps5 Mbps
XFINITY250 Mbps10 Mbps

If you frequently game, Skype or upload large files online, evaluating a provider’s upload speeds can help you decide which plan is right for you.

Why internet upload speeds are slow and download speeds are fast

Most providers give customers slow upload speeds because the majority of online activities need more download bandwidth than upload bandwidth. As you’ll see below, common online activities don’t require fast upload speeds as often as they need fast download speeds.

Since other activities that call for fast upload speeds still require data to travel in both directions, the average person consistently needs more download bandwidth than upload.

When internet download speeds matter

The following common family entertainment activities use download bandwidth more than upload:

  • Watching a Netflix movie or show
  • Shopping online
  • Scrolling through social media
  • Viewing YouTube videos
  • Reading online articles
  • Streaming music services

People don’t as frequently upload large video files or video conference from home as they download, so many providers don’t offer fast upload speeds.

However, fiber internet connections are a unique exception. Fiber internet providers often offer upload internet speeds that mirror download speeds.

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 slow upload speeds:

  • 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

Because these activities require you to send large amounts of data upstream, low upload speeds can make these activities time-consuming or impossible.

 

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.

The following providers offer the fastest residential download speeds you can find:

The following providers offer the fastest residential upload speeds you can find:

  • AT&T Fiber- 1,000 Mbps paired with 1,000 Mbps download
  • CenturyLink – 1,000 Mbps paired with 1,000 Mbps download
  • Verizon Fios- 880 Mbps paired with 940 Mbps download
  • AT&T Fiber- 500 Mbps paired with 500 Mbps download
  • Verizon Fios- 300 Mbps paired with 300 Mbps download
  • AT&T Fiber- 300 Mbps paired with 300 Mbps download

 

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, most people do not experience maximum speeds at home because 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.

Originally published 10/18/18. Last updated 1/25/19.
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