You are in the middle of your favorite streaming program when you unexpectedly experience the much dreaded “spinning wheel.” You thought you’d chosen the fastest internet speeds. So why is this happening? There are actually two separate speeds you may not have considered: download speed and upload speed.
Download vs upload speed
To help you understand the difference between the two speeds, we’ve created a primer on both types of speed, why they matter, and what you can do to optimize them for the best internet experience.
What’s the difference between download and upload speed?
To understand the difference between download and upload speeds, you first have to take a look at how internet speed is measured. It’s all about how fast data can transfer to or from your computer, which measures in megabits of data that can be transferred per second (Mbps).
The download speed refers to how fast the data can be transferred from the internet to your computer, while the upload speed refers to how fast the data can transfer from your computer to the internet.
Why does download speed matter?
For most people, the bulk of their internet usage relies on fast download speeds. The download speed affects everything from loading web pages and images to listening to music, downloading files, and streaming video. Streaming activities, especially, require a fast download speed.
Without it, you might experience a lot of buffering, images that won’t download, or web pages that are slow to load.
Why does upload speed matter?
The majority of us upload data to the internet much less frequently, but some activities do require you to send data in the opposite direction.
Sending emails, uploading YouTube content, and enjoying a live video call with a friend are all examples of activities that require a good upload speed.
How to optimize for ideal download/upload speed
If you’re looking for ways to optimize your internet speeds, there are a few things that you can do to make sure you’re getting the best experience possible.
Run an internet speed test: Before you can go about fixing your connection, you need to know what you’re working against. Run a free internet speed test to start to get a sense of where your download and upload speeds are. Then, once you’ve completed some of the suggestions below, run it again to track the change.
Reset your router: Routers should be reset every so often to refresh your internet connection. To do this, it’s as simple as turning the router off, waiting 30 seconds, and turning it back on again. Know that it won’t drastically change your internet speed, but it will help a bit.
Clear your cache: As you visit websites, your browser collects information about you and your browsing habits in the form of cookies. Marketers use this information to produce ads that are relevant to your interests. However, when your browser stores too many of these cookies, your internet can get sluggish. You’ll need to clear your cache in order to get rid of them.
Try a different internet service provider (ISP): If slow internet has really got you down, one thing that you can do is try to negotiate with your current ISP to see if they can move you to an upgraded plan or to switch service providers entirely. You may even be able to save a little money if you move to a new company.
Connectivity is king. Whether you’re a bandwidth buff, or brand new to the buying experience–you know that you’re at the mercy of those 5G and WiFi bars. Almost everyone in the United States (a whopping 74 million subscribers) stream some sort of video every day–from Netflix to Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock TV, Hulu, and even Youtube. Every time you press play, whether you like it or not, you’re only as good as your internet speed.
So if you’re suffering from buffering or lamenting your lag, it’s time we broke down the difference between download and upload speeds. Knowing the difference could mean a world of difference in how, where, and what you stream. For starters, take an Internet Speed Test.
This allows you to see the download speed, upload speed, and ping rate of each individual device you’re using. You can use these results to compare the speeds you’re actually getting vs what you’re paying your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Next, let’s just clear the air. Your upload speed is going to be drastically lower than your download speed. There’s not really a whole lot you can do about it. It always has been, and always will be controlled by your provider. Now–technical crap. Both upload and download speeds are measured in Megabits per second (Mbps). While you can’t control the difference between them, there are a few things you can take to improve them.
What’s The Difference?
Download Speed: The rate at which data is transferred from the Internet to the user’s device. Upload Speed: The rate that data is transferred from the user’s computer to the Internet. Symmetrical Load: Download and Upload speeds are Equal. ISP: Internet Service Provider. Ping Rate: The delay of messages sent between any given set of hosts. Bandwidth: The amount of data you can transfer.
Again, most internet companies set the default download speed to be faster than the upload. However, demand for symmetrical speeds have increased mostly due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. People are doing everything from home–working from home, studying from home, streaming, video conferencing. It’s our new normal. It’s still standard though that most people download or receive information, stream videos, or search for faster results, more than they upload it.
Providers just want their users to be happy. A good network bandwidth for the most part just means quick streaming of movies and songs, and easy use of social media platforms. Maybe even a good upload speed for all the live streamers. There are, on occasion, some larger businesses (Google, Apple, Amazon, Disney, etc.) and social networks (Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, etc.) that require fast upload speeds with unconventionally large bandwidths.
Most of the time, network performance like this is only because they use a ton of streaming platforms and multiple types of social media uploads. Still, most ISPs don’t won’t budge for big businesses–since the economy is moving more and more towards a WFH standard. Check that internet vocabulary. Test Your Internet Speed.
Test Your Internet Speed
Here’s how running the test works. Checking your Download net speed just means the server sends packets of binary files to the computer. Be aware that many sites use Flash to transport their data. Flash often doesn’t count about 30% of the slowest transfers. However, Bandwidth Place replaced Flash with HTML5. No loss of data makes for a faster, cleaner test. Whatever site you use, check to make sure it’s not using Flash.
Flash is on the outs, and it’s a pretty archaic test anymore. The Upload process is similar but reversed. On the upload test, your computer is sending info to the server from the device. The device grabs generic bits of data and transfers it to the server. This data isn’t whole pieces of information–and what’s sent is encrypted, so it’s safe and anonymous.
“High Speed” Internet – anything above 25 Mbps. Most ISPs have an advertised max of 1,000 Mbps. Typically the fastest residential tests are around 150 Mbps. Anything between 3 and 25 Mbps is still considered fast. Slow Speed Internet – anything below 3 Mbps. Dial-Up – Anything below 1 Mbps is considered Dial-Up. It’s almost non-existent and can’t support streaming, most internet searches, or any form of online gaming. Typical speeds are measured in Kilobits per second as opposed to Megabits.
“High Speed” Internet – anything above 5 Mbps. Most ISPs don’t advertise their maximum speed simply because it’s not nearly as crucial as download speeds. Some symmetrical providers can see uploads as fast as 150 Mbps – though it’s unusual. Anything between 3 and 5 Mbps is standard and won’t affect your day-to-day. Slow Speed Internet – anything below 1 Mbps. It’s not uncommon for internet upload speeds in high traffic areas to dip into the Kbps.
If you find that your home internet service is not what your provider promised, there are a couple of easy fixes you can perform. First, make sure it wasn’t a failed test. Sometimes iffy WiFi, downloading large files, playing games, or streaming videos while you’re performing a test can short your test altogether.
Stop what you’re doing for a minute and focus ALL your bandwidth on the test. Also, make sure you understand your internet plans. Some people demand high speeds, but simply aren’t paying for them. You might need to up your plan if you’re paying a low tier service. Next, you can use a wired connection with an ethernet cable to the router or modem, instead of relying on your wireless connection.
Performing a speed test with a wired network will always give you better results than a WiFi Speed Test. Finally, reset your modem or router. Sometimes a good ‘ol, “did you turn it off and on again,” actually works wonders. You can also remove any firewalls in place while the test is active (just make sure to turn them back on after). If you still have slow speeds and you’re sure it’s not a hardware or user problem, contact your Internet provider.