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When searching for a new internet service provider (ISP), the options can be confusing. Each ISP offers a variety of plans, each with different download and upload speeds at different price points.
With more people working from home than ever before, understanding your needs for both download and upload speed is crucial to picking the right plan. Let’s break down the basics: download speed vs upload speed. What’s the difference?
- Download Speed: the rate that data is transferred from the internet to a device
- Upload Speed: the rate that data is transferred from a device to the internet
- Symmetrical Speeds: when download speed and upload speed are equal
- Bandwidth: the amount of data you can transfer at a given time
- Speed Calculator Tool: a 2-minute quiz that helps gauge what internet speed you need
Enter your zip code to find providers near you.
What is download speed?
Download speed is how fast data travels from the internet to your computer. Most home internet users rely on fast download speeds — loading webpages, images, listening to music, downloading files, streaming video, etc. Streaming requires especially fast download speeds, so you aren’t stuck wasting time waiting for your show to buffer.
What is upload speed?
Upload speed is how fast data travels from your computer to the internet. Things like sending emails, uploading media files, and live video calls are all activities that utilize upload speed. Historically, this has been less important for home use, but it’s a key factor to consider if you’re working from home or regularly posting to social media.
Symmetrical speeds refer to an internet plan with the same upload and download speeds. Usually, you only see symmetrical speeds offered by fiber internet providers. When your download and upload speeds are different, they are called asymmetrical speeds.
Many providers prioritize download speeds over upload speeds because they’re typically used for more online activities like web browsing and online gaming.
If you are a remote worker or content creator that frequently uploads files to the internet, you will want to pay attention to this feature of your internet plan. Sub-par upload speeds can be the difference between you uploading a work assignment on time or keeping up with your online posts.
Bandwidth vs Speed
Before getting started on your search, it’s good to have a baseline understanding of what you’re purchasing.
Plans are designed around the amount of bandwidth you will receive from your provider, measured in megabits per second (Mbps). So, when looking at a plan that says you’ll receive 25 Mbps, that is the maximum amount of data your internet connection can handle at one time. The more users and devices you have on a single connection at once, the slower the speed at which you can upload and download data will be.
The other important factor is speed. Internet speed is the rate at which data can be downloaded or uploaded, or downloaded to a given device (also measured in Mbps). Again, when comparing internet plans, the speeds listed are only the potential peak speed you might receive. Most internet plans come with asymmetric speeds, since more users consume content rather than upload it.
A ping refers to a message sent from your computer to test latency (the connection between your devices and the network). Once complete, you’ll get a ping rate (also known as a ping time), which is a measure of latency, represented in milliseconds. The higher the ping rate, the slower your internet connection is.
What internet speed do I need?
In general, internet plans offer anywhere from 1 Mbps to 1000 Mbps or more of bandwidth. Anything above 25 Mbps is considered usable for modern applications, but speeds below 200 Mbps can be challenging for a large household.
To get a sense of your internet needs, take our quick speed calculator quiz. It’ll help you determine what download speed and upload speed you need. You can then compare those results against your current service by running a speed test to see if you need to upgrade your internet plan.
If you find that your current speeds aren’t fast enough to support your daily online activities, use our zip search tool to compare providers near you. We work with top-rated providers to find the best deals available.
Enter your zip code to see providers near you
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