Internet services are all marketed on the basis of download speeds and even while upload speeds have become very important over the past few years, the average consumer is unaware that fast upload speeds can enhance their connectivity experience. As data usage per household continues to grow, driven by new and evolving use cases, upload speeds can no longer be ignored.

Upload speed is the rate at which data is transferred from a computer or device to a central server or the internet, and is typically measured in megabits per second (Mbps). Fast upload speeds are used for gaming, streaming, videoconferencing, telehealth, distance learning, and other evolving needs.

Dgtl Infra provides an in-depth overview of upload speed, including 10 examples of what good upload speeds are used for, a comparison of upload and download speeds, and how you can test your upload speed online. Additionally, we identify what a good, average, and bad upload speed is in the current fixed broadband market, as well as upload speeds for 5G wireless networks.

What is Upload Speed?

Upload speed is the rate at which data is transferred from a computer or device to a central server or the internet. Typically, upload speed is measured in megabits per second (Mbps).

What is Upload Speed Used For?

Upload speeds are used for entertainment-focused services such as gaming and streaming, as well as real-time communication, through videoconferencing, telehealth, distance learning, and online collaboration tools. Additionally, fast upload speeds allow for easy transmission and sharing of large files to the cloud. The following are 10 examples of what good upload speeds can do:

1) Gaming

Lag-free online gaming relies on upload speeds for data transmission but also because latency (ping) can be affected by other upload activity on a network. Upload speeds thus impact the response time a gaming device receives after sending out a request, which in turn, impacts game performance.

2) Streaming (Live Streaming)

Simultaneous recording and broadcasting of video in real-time over the internet requires strong upload speeds for a buffer-free experience. For example, YouTube, Facebook Live, and Twitch are all popular live streaming services.

To live stream at YouTube’s highest-quality resolution, 4K (3840 x 2160p) at 60 frames per second (fps), they recommend a video bitrate range of 20,000 Kbps to 51,000 Kbps, which corresponds to an upload speed requirement between 24.2 Mbps and 61.5 Mbps.

3) Videoconferencing

An additional 35 million employees in the United States have the option to work remotely post-pandemic – and not just temporarily, but rather on a permanent basis. As such, videoconferencing has become a mainstay technology for communications.

Video calls on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, and FaceTime require steady and reliable upload speeds. Moreover, when 2 to 3 simultaneous video calls are ongoing in the same household, the need for strong upload speeds is even more acute, otherwise sessions will jump or cut-out.

4) Telehealth

Patients and healthcare providers (e.g., physicians) increasingly need to communicate in real-time using a video connection, which requires good upload speeds. These communications are replacing traditional in-person care that includes primary care, mental health, and chronic disease management.

5) Distance Learning

Education of students remotely from home through videoconferencing and submission of homework / assignments requires good upload speeds. Furthermore, a connection between a student and a school is typically made through the creation of a virtual private network (VPN) to the school’s wide area network (WAN) – ultimately good upload speeds are needed to establish a VPN connection.

6) Collaboration Tools

Businesses are using new communication platforms to replace the use of e-mail and let their employees collaborate, share information, and work on documents in real-time from different locations. These cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) applications are delivered over the internet and thus require good upload speeds for employees to collaborate amongst each other. Examples of commonly-used collaboration tools include Slack, Google Docs (part of Google Workspace), and Asana.

7) Connected Devices

In the United States, an average household currently has 13 connected devices. As additional devices in the home get connected, this figure is expected to more than triple, reaching 40 connected devices in an average household by 2025. Everything including smart TVs, smart speakers, connected thermostats, home security systems, domestic robots, smart bulbs, energy monitors, connected appliances, and smart door locks are uploading more data using a home’s network.

READ MORE: Internet of Things (IoT) Devices: What’s Smart in 2023?

8) Cloud Sync

Synchronization between devices, for files that reside on cloud storage, requires steady and reliable upload speeds. For example, Apple’s iCloud service can backup and sync a user’s iPhone data, while Dropbox is another cloud-based service used for keeping files in sync. Recently, Dropbox’s co-founder and CEO, Drew Houston, noted the importance of upload speeds for customer satisfaction:

“Faster upload speeds, improved reliability, and increased visibility around sharing, all drove higher App Store ratings and customer satisfaction for us.”

9) Security Cameras

Homes and businesses are utilizing a significant number of video cameras to stream video inside and outside their premises. Low-resolution security cameras require upload speeds of 3 Mbps for video transmission, while high-resolution security cameras require upload speeds of 20 Mbps or greater for video transmission.

10) Evolving Use Cases

Demand for faster upload speeds is growing, driven by new and evolving use cases like augmented reality (AR) & virtual reality (VR), the metaverse, and large-scale Internet of Things (IoT) deployments.

READ MORE: Internet of Things (IoT) Examples by Industry in 2023

Upload vs Download Speed

While upload speed is the rate at which data is transferred from a computer or device to a central server or the internet, download speed is the rate at which data is transferred to a computer or device from a central server or the internet.

Generally, upload speeds for home internet service are much slower than download speeds, with a download-to-upload speed ratio of 10:1. This means that a customer subscribing to an internet plan with download speeds of 500 Mbps could expect to receive upload speeds of only 50 Mbps.

As shown below, usage of uplink capacity (54 gigabytes per subscriber) has recently grown at a faster pace than downlink capacity (480 gigabytes per subscriber), particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Uplink and Downlink Consumption Comparison
Uplink and Downlink Consumption Comparison
Source: AT&T.

Drivers of the increase in usage for upload speeds include many of the use cases listed in the prior section, such as gaming, streaming, and videoconferencing. Furthermore, demand for greater upload speeds is expected to persist, as existing use cases grow and evolving use cases, such as augmented reality (AR) & virtual reality (VR), become more commonplace.

According to AT&T, by 2025, demand for greater upload speeds is expected to reduce the download-to-upload speed ratio to only 5:1. This means that a customer subscribing to an internet plan with download speeds of 500 Mbps could expect to receive upload speeds of 100 Mbps.

Upload Speed Test

Speedtest by Ookla is one of the most common ways to reliably test the upload speed in megabits per second (Mbps), download speed in Mbps, and latency (ping) in milliseconds (ms) of your internet connection. Recently, Speedtest by Ookla redesigned its latency measures to test for loaded latency, which measures ping during three stages: idle ping, download ping, and upload ping.

What is a Good Upload Speed?

Good upload speeds available to consumers currently range from 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) to 10 Gbps, which can be obtained through fiber-optic internet services. Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) technology delivers symmetrical download and upload speeds – meaning they are equally as fast.

READ MORE: Fiber to the Home (FTTH) vs FTTP, FTTN, FTTC, and FTTB

In comparison, cable and DSL copper-based services are asymmetrical, offering fast download speeds but meaningfully slower upload speeds. For example, cable may deliver internet services with up to 1 Gbps download speeds, but only 35 Mbps to 50 Mbps upload speeds. Therefore, fiber-optic internet services can deliver upload speeds of more than 250 times faster than cable technology.

What is an Average Upload Speed?

Out of the United State’s ~110 million broadband subscribers, over 75 million subscribers (~68%) use the services of the country’s largest cable companies, such as Xfinity (Comcast), Spectrum (Charter), Cox, and Optimum / Suddenlink (Altice USA). As such, average upload speeds can be best characterized as those delivered by cable companies over a hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) network. Presently, average upload speeds available to consumers range from 35 Mbps to 50 Mbps.

What is a Bad Upload Speed?

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a broadband standard of 25 Mbps for download speed and 3 Mbps for upload speed. Therefore, based on this benchmark from an independent agency of the U.S. federal government, bad upload speeds would mean any data transfer rate of less than 3 Mbps.

What is a Good 5G Upload Speed?

While the above comparisons focused on fixed broadband networks, 5G wireless networks are also experiencing more demand from upload data transmission, particularly as it relates to gaming, streaming, and videoconferencing. Wireless carriers including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are currently capable of delivering upload speeds of 50 Mbps to 75 Mbps through their 5G networks.

However, according to Opensignal’s USA 5G Experience Report for July 2022, the average upload speeds experienced by Opensignal users across each wireless carrier’s 5G network was as follows:

  • T-Mobile: 17.8 Mbps
  • Verizon: 14.0 Mbps
  • AT&T: 10.0 Mbps

Why is My Upload Speed so Slow?

Upload speeds for a user can be slow due to a variety of reasons, such as their internet service provider (ISP), the number of users on their home network, the total neighborhood network capacity, the type of community they live in, a server’s location relative to the user, their router connection, and spectrum capacity. Below we highlight 7 common problems with upload speed and the causes for upload speeds to drop:

1) Internet Service Provider (ISP)

Foremost, the upload speeds you receive will depend on the technology that your internet service provider (ISP) uses to deliver your internet services and the speed tier that you subscribe to. The five main types of high-speed internet provided to homes and their corresponding typical upload speeds are as follows:

  • Fiber Optic: delivers symmetrical bandwidth, with upload speeds ranging from 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps
  • Cable: upload speeds of only 35 Mbps to 50 Mbps
  • DSL (Digital Subscriber Line): upload speeds of only 512 Kbps to 10 Mbps
  • Satellite: upload speeds of only 3 Mbps
  • Fixed Wireless: upload speeds ranging from 10 Mbps and 50 Mbps

Overall, if your upload speeds are slow or you are having problems uploading all together, consider upgrading your internet services to fiber optic-based technology, which is often known as fiber to the home (FTTH).

2) Number of Users on Your Network

Bandwidth, which is the capacity in a telecommunications transmission network that is used to carry signals, is shared between individual users in a home network. For example, if a household with a family of 4 has internet service with download speeds of 500 Mbps and upload speeds of 50 Mbps, they will have to share this bandwidth between each person when the internet is being used simultaneously.

Focusing on upload bandwidth, the household’s supplied upload speeds of 50 Mbps, will have to be shared amongst this family of 4 when 2, 3, or 4 people are using the internet simultaneously for purposes like gaming, live streaming, videoconferencing, telehealth, and distance learning. As more connected devices are added to the home’s network, bandwidth is shared across more users.

3) Neighborhood Network Capacity

Similarly, bandwidth is shared amongst all of the homes within a specific neighborhood that receive their broadband connectivity from the same internet service provider (ISP). Therefore, if the total usage demanded by the neighborhood is greater than the bandwidth supplied to the neighborhood, then everybody will receive slower internet speeds when the network is busy. Indeed, these neighborhood network capacity issues are the main reason why a subscriber’s upload speed drops at night – as many people return home, connect to the internet, and use their bandwidth simultaneously.

When an ISP serves too many households through a single neighborhood “node”, the network can become oversubscribed, leading to slower speeds. In particular, oversubscription has been an issue for digital subscriber line (DSL), cable / hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC), and fixed wireless networks. As an example, the increase in working from home and distance learning means that many homes within a specific neighborhood may need to videoconference on Zoom during ‘business’ hours – straining the upload bandwidth on these networks.

4) Type of Community

Urban and suburban households generally have access to high-speed internet from either cable or fiber optic services. As noted above, these broadband technologies deliver higher upload speeds.

In contrast, historical investment into high-speed internet services for rural areas has lagged, due to economic decisions from the large telecommunications providers. As such, internet services used in rural areas are mainly DSL (digital subscriber line), satellite, and cable – which all deliver slower upload speeds.

READ MORE: Rural Internet – Broadband Options and Providers

5) Server Location

Upload speed is the rate at which data is transferred from a computer or device to a central server or the internet. Therefore, a user’s physical distance to a server can impact their upload speeds.

If you live in a major data center market or close to the specific servers which you are using, then your upload speeds will often be higher. For example, major data center markets in the United States and Europe are:

  • United States: Northern Virginia (e.g., Ashburn), Northern California (e.g., San Francisco), Phoenix, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, Portland, New York City / Northern New Jersey, and Los Angeles
  • Europe: London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris, Dublin

6) Router Connection

Users can connect to their routers (or gateways) either through a wired (e.g., Ethernet) or wireless (e.g., Wi-Fi) connection. Comparing the two types of connections, wired networking delivers faster upload speeds than wireless networking.

Additionally, the Wi-Fi network protocol being used by your router can also impact upload speeds. For example, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) networks are able to theoretically deliver speeds of more than 14 Gbps, using 4×4 MIMO antennas, which is faster than the Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) solutions currently being used. Moreover, older standards such as Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) and 802.11g are even more limited in terms of speeds.

For wireless connections, older routers often have hardware limitations, which can limit upload speeds. As an example, the NETGEAR N300 router can only deliver wireless speeds of up to 300 Mbps. In this example, even if a household has internet service with symmetrical speeds of 500 Mbps, they will have their speeds limited to only 300 Mbps over Wi-Fi, using the NETGEAR N300 router.

7) Spectrum Capacity

Wi-Fi operates in unlicensed 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz spectrum, which are ranges of electromagnetic radio frequencies used in the transmission of voice, video, and data traffic. Inherently, spectrum has finite bandwidth, meaning that upload speeds can be impacted by how busy the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz spectrum is in a particular area.

Jonathan Kim covers Fiber for Dgtl Infra, including Zayo Group, Cogent Communications (NASDAQ: CCOI), Uniti Group (NASDAQ: UNIT), Lumen Technologies (NYSE: LUMN), Frontier Communications (NASDAQ: FYBR), Consolidated Communications (NASDAQ: CNSL), and many more. Within Fiber, Jonathan focuses on the sub-sectors of wholesale / dark fiber, enterprise fiber, fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP), and subsea cables. Jonathan has over 8 years of experience in research and writing for Fiber.

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