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What’s the Difference Between Upload Speed and Download Speed?

Date Published:  May 9th, 2022Date Updated:  April 25, 2022

Summary: If you’ve ever been on the market for a new internet plan, you probably know all about download speeds. Download speeds are the number that’s advertised along with your plan (like 500 Mbps or 1 Gig). But you also have upload speeds — and those are usually significantly slower. So what’s the deal with upload speeds? And do you need to worry about both when choosing a new internet plan? Yes — and here’s why.

When shopping for an internet plan, the mindset is often “faster means better.” The real Goldilocks moment happens when you find a speed that’s just right — it supports everything you have connected to it (like your smart TV, video doorbell, and screens of every size), but it’s also affordable. Not too fast and not too pricey.

Historically, we’ve all focused on download speeds, or how much you can get from the internet at one time. But upload speeds matter more than ever.

We’ll walk you through the difference between upload and download speed and help find the plan that fits your life the best. Ready to start?

What Exactly Is Internet Speed?

At the most basic level, internet speed is how fast you can do things online. It’s measured by how much data your internet connection can transfer per second (also known as megabits of data per second, or Mbps). The speeds you see advertised in Mbps measure how quickly a provider delivers internet data to and from your home.

Delivering data to your home is the download speed but delivering data from your home (and taking it elsewhere, like your best friend’s screen) is the upload speed. Data is a two-way street, and both speeds matter.

Wondering why you keep hearing about 1 Gig internet if speed is measured by Mbps? 1 Gig (sometimes also written as 1 Gbps, or gigabyte per second) is 1,000 Mbps. So 1 Gig internet is ten times faster than 100 Mbps internet — you can almost feel the wind on your face, right?

Ad reading: Internet at the Speed of Light. Get EarthLink Fiber Internet

The Difference Between Upload Speed vs. Download Speed

So you know the basics of how internet speed is measured. But what’s the difference between lanes on this two-way street?

What is Upload Speed?

Upload speeds are used when you’re sending information somewhere else. Think: uploading a video to Instagram or texting a picture to a friend. But you probably use upload speed most often when you’re… Googling something. Every time you search for something on the internet, whether you’re typing it in or using voice search, it requires upload speed.

If you’re in a content creation field, you probably rely on upload speed more than most people. It’s especially important for uploading, sharing, or sending video, audio, or other large files. But if you work remotely and spend a lot of your day on videoconferences, you need upload speed, too.

If your upload speed is too slow, your image will be laggy and blurry — leading to coworkers saying, “We can’t hear you!” as you frantically try to reconnect. Not fun.

What is a Good Upload Speed?

Average upload speeds vary, but if you’re using broadband internet, you have at least 3 Mbps. But if you’re using upload speeds for things like sharing large files or competitive online gaming, you’ll want to have at least 5-10 Mbps of upload speed.

Just like choosing the right internet plan, an upload speed that is good for you may not be good for someone else. It all depends on what you do online. The more information you send (especially if it needs to be in real-time), the more upload speed you’ll want.

What is Download Speed?

Download speed is used to receive information. Download speed affects things like streaming music on Spotify, binging the latest Netflix series, or downloading large files for work. Any time you’re downloading information from somewhere else — including window shopping online or doing research — you’re using download speed.

A motorcycle heading in one direction that states Upload Speed: 5-10 Mbps. A car going in the other direction that says Download Speed: 30+ Mbps

Until recently, the vast majority of what we did online was based in download speeds. But as the internet has become more of a two-way street, so have speeds.

What is a Good Download Speed?

Any download speed of 25 Mbps or faster is considered high-speed, or broadband, internet. But 25 Mbps is really only suited for households with 1-2 devices who stream occasionally, but primarily surf the web or scroll social media. If you’re like most people, you have 10 or more connected devices. Depending on how you use the internet, and how many devices you’re using at once, you might need something closer to 300 or 500 Mbps.

The more devices you’re using at once (especially if you’re streaming on one while gaming on another and someone else in the house is streaming on theirs, too), the more speed you need.

Not sure what would be best for your household? Use our internet bandwidth calculator to get a better estimate.

What is the Difference Between Upload Speed and Download Speed?

The difference is: upload speed is how fast you can send information, while download speed is how quickly you can receive it. Upload speeds are typically slower than download speeds — this is only recently becoming a problem in some cases, thanks to the popularity of remote work, online gaming, and group video chats.

Think of it like this: if you’re a content creator sharing your latest video, YouTube is using upload speed. If you’re watching the latest video from your favorite account, YouTube uses download speed.

What is Internet Bandwidth?

Okay, so there are two types of internet speed you need to consider when choosing a plan. But there’s also something called bandwidth.

Internet bandwidth is the maximum amount of data that your internet provider can transfer from one point to another. Your combined upload speed and download speed make up your bandwidth. The higher the number, the more data that can be transferred at once.

If you’re curious to learn more about latency vs. bandwidth, we’ve got your answers.

What Are Some Common Download and Upload Speed Packages?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a mix-and-match situation — upload speeds and download speeds are packaged together and you can’t always pick the upload speed you want and the download speed you want.

Here are some of the most common pairings, but availability changes depending on your internet service provider and address. If you want to find out what’s available at your house, give our Internet Experts a call at 866-383-3080 or use our online serviceability tool.

Connection Type  Typical Download Speed  Typical Upload Speed 
DSL 3 – 50 Mbps 1.5 – 3 Mbps
Satellite Internet 12 – 200 Mbps 3 Mbps
Cable 25 – 500 Mbps 1 – 50 Mbps
Wireless Home Internet 30 – 100 Mbps 4 – 15 Mbps
Fiber Internet 50 – 5000 Mbps 50 – 5,000 Mbps

It’s obvious that fiber internet gives you the most bang for your buck, from upload speed to download speed to everything in between. Even if you’re on a lower-level plan, 100 Mbps of download speed also means 100 Mbps of upload speed.

But if you’re in a rural area, Wireless Home Internet offers faster upload speeds than satellite or DSL internet. Plus, it’s more affordable and more reliable than satellite, too.

Why Are Upload Speeds Slow and Packaged with Fast Download Speeds?

Upload speeds are typically slower because they weren’t super important until a few years ago. That’s why you’ll see slower upload speeds on older technology, like DSL and cable internet. Plus, even activities that require upload speed often require download speed, too. It wouldn’t be much of a videoconference if you couldn’t see anyone but yourself!

Wondering why download speed is faster than upload? It’s because since the internet was created, most people have needed higher download speeds and not much upload speed, so that’s where providers have focused. But that’s changing with fiber internet. Fiber internet has symmetrical speeds — so if you have 1 Gig fiber internet, you’ll have 1 Gig upload and download speed. That’s the internet unlimited.

How Do I Know if I Need More Speed?

If you’ve recently added a lot of devices to your network or you’ve started streaming, gaming, or working remotely more than before, you probably need a speed upgrade. But if you haven’t changed your habits, here are a few hints to look for:

  • Long loading times
  • Unexpected pauses, such as buffering in the middle of a movie
  • Web pages or programs that crash

If you’ve already tried troubleshooting your tech and restarting the router, it’s probably time to upgrade your internet plan.

Psst: EarthLink can help with that. As the nation’s largest internet provider, we’re serviceable at nearly 96% of households in the U.S., so we’re confident we can meet you where you are. Plus, we have home internet options starting at $59.95 and speeds up to 5 Gigs. And with no credit checks and no fiber internet data caps, there’s truly something for everyone. Call 866-383-3080 to switch to better internet today!

Michelle Ricker

Michelle Ricker

Michelle Ricker is the Content Marketing Manager for EarthLink. She's an internet expert who loves to break down why connectivity topics are relevant to everyday life. With more than five years of writing experience, she thrives on storytelling and well-placed punctuation. She graduated with her M.A. from the University of Cincinnati but currently lives and works in Atlanta.

See all posts from Michelle Ricker.