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Internet upload speeds explained: what are 'symmetrical' broadband speeds?

Find out all about upload speeds, and why 'symmetrical' broadband speeds are the future
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girl playing an online game on her mobile using upload speeds

In the last couple of years, upload speed has become a very important thing to consider when choosing a broadband deal. Especially if you now work from home.

Download speeds on broadband packages have always been a lot higher than upload speeds. This is mainly because most of what you do online is downloading data rather than uploading it. To give some quick examples:

  • Downloading: Watching or streaming videos | Installing video games | Scrolling through social media | Opening attachments and files

  • Uploading: Uploading videos (e.g. to YouTube or TikTok) | Posting on social media | Attaching and sending files

  • Both: Video calls and virtual meetings | Online gaming

Even though downloading is still more common, there are now plenty more reasons to need a good upload speed. With many of us working from home, making video calls to friends and family, and playing online games, we’re using a lot more upload speed than ever.

That’s why certain broadband providers have recently started to offer ‘symmetrical’ speeds with its packages. This is where the upload speed is exactly the same as the download speed, so low upload speeds won’t limit your online activities.

Find out all about upload speeds, and why symmetrical broadband is needed now more than ever, in our dedicated guide.

What is upload speed?

Upload speed is the secondary internet speed you get with a broadband deal. It refers to how much data your device can send to the internet in a certain period.

Internet speed, in general, is about how much data can be transferred between the internet and your device. If it’s from an internet server to your device, (like a Netflix show) it’s download, if it’s from your device to the server (like a new Instagram pic), it’s upload.

Just like download speed, upload speed is measured in ‘Mbps’ (megabits per second), but it’s usually a lot slower. Having a working upload connection is just as important as a download one. But it historically hasn’t needed to be as fast, because upload tasks usually contain less data.

If you need a better idea of what broadband speeds mean, head over to our guide to help you find the speed you need.

What is a good upload speed?

The short answer is, it depends on what you regularly do online and how much data it requires.

If you live in a small household, and you only ever use the internet for scrolling through social media or sending the odd email, you could get away with a low upload speed of 1-2Mbps. That is unless you work from home, where an upload speed of 9-10Mbps can boost your productivity.

However, if you have to send lots of files and join video meetings for work, you should choose a relatively higher upload speed of 18-20Mbps. This also goes for serious gamers who need to get the edge over their online opponents. It’ll help you avoid long waiting times and frustrating freezes.

Just be aware that whatever upload speed you need, you’ll have to account for other members of your household too. So if you live with two, three or more people, you’d have to first consider what they use the internet for and then add their required speeds to yours.

What is a good upload speed for working from home?

Having a minimum upload speed of 3Mbps per person working from home is good. This should give you smooth, high-quality video calls and easy file sharing.

But if your job requires you to send and upload very large files, a faster upload speed would make you more efficient throughout the day. This is especially the case if you’re a video editor, graphic designer or visual content creator.

In these cases, the faster your upload speed, the faster you’ll complete your tasks. So the more you have, the quicker you can get on with other things. Many fibre deals offer maximum upload speeds of around 18Mbps, but if you have access to a full fibre connection, you could benefit from upload speeds in the hundreds, thanks to symmetrical broadband.

Learn more about symmetrical internet speeds further on in our guide.

What is a good upload speed for gaming?

If you’re a casual gamer who isn’t overly fussed about having a winning setup, a simple upload speed between 1-3Mbps should do you fine. But if you want to get the best possible reaction time in-game, a 5Mbps upload is the recommended amount for competitive players.

Online gaming requires a strong upload connection because you’re constantly making decisions that need to be registered by others playing the same game. The buttons you press on your controller need to affect the surrounding game environment and the other players in your lobby.

So theoretically, the better your upload speed, the quicker those decisions will take effect in the game. And the more likely you are to outperform your competitors.

What is a good upload speed for live streaming?

Live streaming often uses up the most upload speed out of everything you can do online. Whether you’re looking to become a streamer, or you just want to broadcast a game you’re playing on Twitch or Facebook, you’ll have to dedicate a lot of bandwidth to it.

Note: For this section, we’re referring to the upload speed you need to actually conduct a live stream yourself, rather than simply watching a live stream on your device.

Your minimum upload speed to stream your own content will depend on the quality you choose for your broadcast. Standard definition (less than HD) only requires about 0.5Mbps to stream smoothly. But nowadays, it has a very low-quality look to it. If you don’t mind that, that’s all you’ll need to stream successfully.

However, if you want to run a good-quality, professional-looking stream, upload speeds for HD range between 3-9Mbps. And if you want to go all out and stream in 4K, you’ll need at least 13Mbps.

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Why is my upload speed so slow?

There are a few reasons why your upload speed might be slow.

They’re usually a lot slower than your download speed

If you’ve just run an internet speed test and noticed that your upload speed is a lot lower than your download speed, this might not be cause for concern.

Upload speeds are almost always slower than download speeds because there’s usually less of a need for it. The majority of what you do online will rely on a download connection rather than an upload one, so broadband providers intentionally offer much slower upload speeds.

But with rising demand for good upload speeds, full fibre broadband packages with symmetrical internet speeds will start to become a lot more desirable. And some providers already offer this new technology.

Broadband providers with symmetrical download and upload speeds

Many full fibre broadband providers offer symmetrical broadband speeds, where upload and download internet speeds are equal. Here’s a brief list of them:

You might be using too many devices at once

Since upload speeds aren’t usually as fast as download speeds, your upload connection might get overwhelmed if your household is using it for multiple different things at once.

Disconnect all of your other devices and try again. If it works smoothly, it could have been a case of ‘bottlenecking’, where there’s just too much data for it to process at once.

Just ensure that everyone who is using the internet in your household can still get online, especially if they’re working from home. If only necessary devices are connected and you’re still experiencing issues, you might have to search for a broadband package that has a higher upload speed.

You could have an internet connection issue

If the above two solutions haven’t worked, there might be a problem with your internet connection. If that’s the case, make sure your router is clear of any nearby obstacles (they can block its signal and weaken the connection), and turn it off and on again.

Quite often, a router reboot can solve all of your internet woes. But if you’re still experiencing problems, you still have a couple of options:

Your upload speed might not be fast enough

There’s also a simpler solution, but it might be the most costly one. Your upload speed just might not be enough to cover the needs of your household.

Find the average upload speed that your provider advertised for your broadband package when you signed up. If it matches your internet speed test, it simply might be too slow for your household’s demand.

In this scenario, you essentially have three options:

  • Ask your broadband provider for a speed upgrade (this doesn’t always work, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to check)

  • Compare broadband deals from other providers that offer faster upload speeds

  • Make changes to your internet habits or set out specific times each household member can use their devices

How to increase your upload speed

If you’re looking for ways to make the most of your upload connection, there are a few things you can do to make it as fast as your broadband package allows:

  • Disconnect devices that you aren’t using. They could be using up precious megabits unnecessarily.

  • Use the internet during off-peak periods. 8pm-10pm is when most people are online, and that can affect your broadband speed. Try to avoid those times if you want maximum upload speed.

  • Use a wired connection. They’re less practical than a simple wireless connection, but it does make your connection a lot more stable and consistent.

What are symmetrical internet speeds?

Symmetrical internet speeds are connections that offer the same upload and download speed.

Historically, upload speeds have always been a lot slower than download speeds. But with the introduction of full fibre broadband, it’s a lot easier to have an equal amount going both ways.

This would all but eliminate any upload speed concern you have because, with these connections, they have been increased to the same level as download speeds. And since they’re only really available through full fibre broadband, it could mean you’ll be enjoying gigabit speeds both ways. That was unheard of only a couple of years ago.

Why symmetrical broadband speeds are the future

Changes to our online habits in recent years, along with the impact of the COVID pandemic, have increased people’s demand for good upload speeds. Working from home, video calls, competitive online gaming and live streaming have all skyrocketed, and our broadband packages need to adjust to accommodate that.

In the future, with VR becoming increasingly popular and smart home gadgets on the rise, upload usage will only continue to grow. So we’re starting to need equal speeds to download connections.

Want to switch to a new broadband deal with faster upload speeds? Check your postcode and compare broadband deals with Uswitch to see what’s available in your area.