Upload speed vs download speed

Upload plays second fiddle to download, but despite the importance of download in a seamless online experience, upload has a critical role to play.
A red arrow pointing up a flight of stairs

It used to be that upload speed was a critical but invisible part of a smooth online experience, particularly on DSL-based technologies. With these older broadband technologies, a single pipe brought in download and upload data, which meant if you maxed out one, speeds were throttled on the other.

Couple these limited internet technologies with devices that want to automatically backup images as soon as you step through the door (via upload, of course), and that’s a recipe for bringing your home network to its knees. In this NBN internet age, upload may be less of a concern, but it’s still important to understand what it’s all about.

What is upload?

Upload is the opposite of download. While download refers to information that is coming into a device, upload refers to data that is being sent from a device. For example, whenever you add a picture to a post on social media, that task uses upload to attach the file. Upload is something that your connected devices are constantly using, even when browsing the most basic of websites, if only to send a request from your device to access the data on a site.

Upload is critical to online connectivity, but while most internet tasks require less upload bandwidth than download bandwidth for a smooth experience, you’ll absolutely notice across-the-board performance issues if your upload bandwidth is maxed out.

Upload speed vs download speed

It’s particularly telling that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) only deigns it necessary for providers to advertise their typical evening download speeds and not their upload speeds. This emphasis on download over upload perpetuates the belief that download is more important than upload.

For the most part, that perpetuation is true: download is more critical to regular internet usage than upload. Whether you’re surfing, streaming, or downloading, your download bandwidth absolutely matters more than upload. There are exceptions, though.

Because most online games use very little data in comparison to, say, streaming movies on Netflix or TV shows on Stan, download and upload bandwidth can be quite low for a comparable experience where, ultimately, latency (or ‘ping’ as it’s erroneously called) matters more. That said, if you like sharing your entertainment from a media server like Plex while you’re out and about, or want to use services like Parsec to digitally replicate couch gaming, a fast and consistent upload speed is critical for the other side of those connections.

The same is true for content creators and streamers, who either want to ensure they can upload multi-gigabyte videos in a timely fashion or stream at a fidelity and frame rate that makes the viewing experience better for viewers. More upload bandwidth also means faster file transfers when backing up to the cloud.

Upload speeds in Australia

We have a strange attitude towards upload bandwidth in Australia, as is reflected in the internet plans offered by providers. If the download vs upload bandwidth of these plans are to be believed, we don’t really care about upload anywhere near as much as download. Even the naming conventions of the NBN plans are in terms of download speed.

This combines to create self-fulfilling validation that Australians don’t care about upload, but we haven’t yet properly had the opportunity to appreciate its perks because it’s not offered in proportionate amounts. It’s difficult for there to be demand for something that hasn’t been available in a meaningful way. In fairness, these plans exist for businesses, but have not yet been made widely available for consumers.

Here’s a breakdown of NBN upload speeds by tier and technology type:

Fixed-line NBN upload speeds

  • NBN 12 Basic I upload: up to 1Mbps
  • NBN 25 Basic II upload: up to 5Mbps
  • NBN 50 Standard upload: up to 20Mbps
  • NBN 100 Fast upload: up to 40Mbps
  • NBN 250 Superfast upload: up to 25Mbps
  • NBN 1000 Ultrafast upload: up to 50Mbps

The one exception to this is that Superloop offers an NBN 200/200 plan, which means it has symmetrical upload and download speeds of up to 200Mbps, with typical evening download speeds of 180Mbps. Typical evening upload speeds are not disclosed.

Fixed Wireless NBN upload speeds

  • NBN 12 Basic upload: up to 1Mbps
  • NBN 25 Basic II upload: up to 5Mbps
  • NBN 50 Standard upload: up to 20Mbps
  • NBN 75 Fixed Wireless Plus upload: up to 10Mbps

NBN 75 plans have lower maximum upload speeds compared to NBN 50 offerings because Fixed Wireless operates on finite shared bandwidth for upload and download. The Fixed Wireless Plus plan has a lower maximum upload speed to offer more download bandwidth (up to 75Mbps).

Check out a selection of popular Fixed Wireless NBN plans below.

Sky Muster satellite NBN upload speeds

  • NBN 12 Basic upload: up to 1Mbps
  • NBN 25 Basic II upload: up to 5Mbps

Like Fixed Wireless, Sky Muster satellite NBN connections have finite shared bandwidth to work with, which is why upload speeds can only reach up to 5Mbps on an NBN 25 plan. You can see a selection of popular Sky Muster Satellite NBN plans below.

Provider upload speeds

The internet busy hour is between 7.00pm and 11.00pm every night, including weekends. This is the period where most people are online, which creates more demand on external networks and, subsequently, tends to result in lower upload and download speeds. The ACCC tracks the broadband performance of 10 Australian NBN providers and posts the results throughout the year.

Here’s the latest look at the data from the ACCC in terms of upload speed from popular NBN providers (note that Dodo and iPrimus are measured together by the ACCC).

ProviderSpeed % during busy hoursNBN 12 upload speed (Mbs)NBN 25 upload speed (Mbs)NBN 50 upload speed (Mbs)NBN 100 upload speed (Mbs)NBN 250 upload speed (Mbs)NBN 1000 upload speed (Mbs)
Exetel90.1%N/A4.5018.0236.04N/AN/A
TPG86.8%0.874.3417.3634.72N/AN/A
Aussie Broadband86.2%0.864.3117.2434.4821.5543.10
MyRepublic86.2%N/A4.3117.2434.4821.55N/A
Optus86.2%N/AN/A17.2434.4821.5543.10
iiNet85.5%0.854.2717.1034.20N/AN/A
Telstra84.7%N/A4.2316.9433.8821.1742.3
Vodafone81.4%N/A4.0716.2832.56N/AN/A
Dodo79.2%N/A3.9615.8431.68N/AN/A
iPrimus79.2%N/A3.9615.8431.6819.8N/A

(In the table above, “N/A” indicates that the provider doesn’t offer a plan on the corresponding speed tier.)

If you’re with one of these providers, you should be able to perform an upload speed test during the busy evening period and see similar numbers based on the NBN plan you have.

To put into perspective how low upload speeds are in comparison to the download speeds that are used to name NBN plans, take a look at the table below.

PlanMax download speedMax upload speedUpload percentage vs download
NBN 1212Mbps1Mbps8.33%
NBN 2525Mbps5Mbps20%
NBN 5050Mbps20Mbps40%
NBN 100100Mbps40Mbps40%
NBN 250250Mbps25Mbps10%
NBN 10001000Mbps50Mbps5%

It’s worth noting that providers tend to offer 20Mbps upload speeds for NBN 100 plans these days instead of the original 40Mbps upload speeds. As you can see from the table, NBN 50 and NBN 100 fair best in the percentage comparison with 40 percent apiece, but going above NBN 100 means diminishing returns on the percentage comparison.

What is a good NBN upload speed?

The quality of upload speed is determined by what you use it for. The best upload speed for streaming is one that’s low to help keep costs down. That said, if you’re streaming from your home network to elsewhere, the upload speed for streaming in the opposite direction should be as high as you can make it to create a better experience on the other end.

An NBN 100/20 plan offers plenty of streaming potential for the Netflix-loving home, but you’d want at least an NBN 100/40 plan if you’re streaming in the other direction.

The best upload speed for gaming depends on how you game. If you just play games, upload speed doesn’t matter a whole lot. But if you stream games or regularly upload gameplay clips, you’ll absolutely notice the speed difference with an NBN 100/40 plan.

Mobile upload speed

If you thought upload cops a bum rap for fixed-line internet, telcos are even less willing to talk about upload speed when it comes to mobile networks. According to Speed Test, Australia’s average mobile upload speed in 2020 was 14.03Mbps, which is up from the OpenSignal 8.2Mbps results from 2019 (PDF link).

Depending on the data allowance of your mobile plan – where downloads and uploads both count towards your cap – and how you use it, upload is arguably more important on mobile than download. While browsing and streaming is absolutely more dependent on download than upload, the snap-happy smartphone photographer or videographer who backs up images via mobile data and/or shares them to social media will notice things are shared and backed up a whole lot faster when there’s more upload bandwidth to play with.

According to CNET analysis, 5G upload speeds range from around 48.4Mbps to 63.3Mbps, which is a marked improvement on 4G upload speeds, but still pales in comparison to the 252–485Mbps range of download speeds on 5G.

Why is my upload speed so slow?

There are two main culprits for slow upload speed: maxed-out bandwidth or a plan that has insufficient upload capacity. If you want to increase your available upload speed on a congested network is by ensuring that devices connected to your network aren’t hogging all of the upload bandwidth. This can be achieved by scheduling automatic backups, limiting the maximum upload speed to better share upload bandwidth, or manually activating uploads at times when others aren’t likely to miss the bandwidth.

If you want to know how to improve your upload speed overall, it’s best to first look at your NBN plan. NBN plans with slower overall download also tend to have slower overall upload up until NBN 100. Beyond NBN 100, your best bet for more upload is to opt for an NBN 1000 plan – but those are currently available to FTTP connections only – or seeking out plans like Superloop’s 200/200 plan for symmetrical download and upload speeds.

The best first place to start when determing whether you have an upload speed problem is with a speed test. Use the tables above to compare your current upload speed with what it should look like. If it’s noticeably lower, reach out to your provider for assistance.