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Upload speed vs download speed: What’s the difference?

Upload plays second fiddle to download, but despite the importance of download in a seamless online experience, upload has a critical role to play.

Anula Wiwatowska
Nov 24, 2023
Icon Time To Read6 min read
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Upload speed
  • Used to add data to the internet
  • Generally much slower than download speeds
  • Used less
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Download speed
  • Used to take data from the internet
  • Needs higher speeds for good performance
  • Used the most in internet browsing

Your internet connection utilises three main components; upload speed, download speed, and latency. In the simplest terms, upload speed is used to add things to the internet, download speed is used to get data from the internet, and latency is the time it takes for your connection to respond to an action you take. 

Download and upload speeds are the two elements you have the most control over on your internet connection. In this guide we break down what these are, and what you need to know to get the best internet connection for your needs.

What is upload speed?

Upload speed is the rate at which you’ll be able to send data from your device via your internet connection. Upload speeds are used any time you are adding something to the internet - it could be uploading a photo, sending an email, making a video call, or even just sending a request to access data on a website through a mouse click.

Some of these activities, like a mouse click, send a small amount of data, while others, like live streaming or online gaming send significantly more. Measured in Mbps, your upload speed refers to how many megabits per second your connection can send. The bigger the number, the faster the connection, and the more data-intensive activities you can complete without lag.

A good upload speed is subjective to the online activities you need it for, but the best upload speed you can get on a typical NBN plan is 50Mbps. If you don’t need to upload large files or live video then you can probably get away with something closer to 20Mbps however.

What is download speed?

Download speed on the other hand, is the rate at which you can get data from the internet. You use download speeds more frequently than uploads, hence why the speed tends to be significantly higher. Downloads are used whenever you are extracting data - loading a website, streaming music or video, or saving a file from an online source.

Just like uploads, some of these instances are more data intensive than others, and require a higher Mbps capacity in order to run seamlessly. While you’ll still be able to complete any online task with a lower download speed, it will take longer. The megabits you are sending don’t change, just the amount that is sent per second.

Similar to uploads, a good download speed will vary person-to-person, but something around 100Mbps will be more than enough for most households. 50Mbps is the most popular option for download speeds in Australia, but for more chronically online users that may not cut it.

Heads Up
Typical evening speeds: Download speed vs upload speed

NBN providers have been required to advertise typical evening download speeds for quite some time, but this only recently extended to uploads. In November 2022, the ACCC brought in requirements that upload claims would need to “appear prominently… at least on retail providers’ websites”.

Typical evening download speeds need to be accurately measured and reported on, but upload speeds are under less scrutiny. On fixed-line connections, upload speeds can be estimated and may be advertised as a claim “that is 15% below the maximum upload speed in the product description”. Ultimately it means that providers can simply state that an NBN 100/20 connection has a typical upload evening speed of 17Mbps - 85% of the maximum plan speed.

What upload speed do I need?

What upload speed you need will vary depending on how you use your internet connection. The flowchart below will give you a general idea of what kind of upload speed you need, and we dig into some of the more common queries below.

What upload speed do I need for gaming?

At least 10Mbps

Upload speeds for gaming vary depending on the game, but generally online gaming only requires around 1Mbps of upload speed according to the game developers. However, it is important to remember that even though the game only requires around 1Mbps, it is rare that it is the only thing using that bandwidth while you’re gaming.

If someone else is posting TikToks in the other room, or even if you’re chatting with friends on Discord while you play, you’ll be utilising more bandwidth across your connection. We recommend a minimum of 10Mbps upload speeds for gaming - which would be an NBN 25 plan. Below are the cheapest NBN plans with at least 10Mbps max upload speeds.

What upload speed do I need for Zoom?

At least 10Mbps

Zoom’s data usage needs vary depending on call quality, and the amount of people in the room. For the absolute best experience, you’ll need at least 3Mbps up and down at all times. This will allow group video calls, with 1080p video quality. On a one-to-one call you’ll only need 1.8Mbps for the same quality.

Once again it is important to note that your connection is bound to be doing multiple things while you’re on a zoom call. 3Mbps upload speeds won’t be enough holistically. Once again, we recommend an NBN 25 plan at an absolute minimum for video conferencing, with a 10Mbps upload speed.

These are the best plans with at least 10Mbps upload speeds.

What upload speed do I need for working from home?

At least 10Mbps, but 20Mbps would be better

As per usual, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the upload speed you need for working from home. You’ll need to take a look at what your job entails, and how many people are using the connection. If it is just you and the majority of your job involves working in spreadsheets and sending emails, you can get away with 10Mbps on an NBN 25 plan.

If however you need to send files frequently, or have big meetings online then 20Mbps from an NBN 50 or NBN 100 plan would suit you better.

These are the best value NBN plans with upload speed caps from 20Mbps.

What upload speed do I need to live stream?

At least 20Mbps, but up to 50Mbps depending on video quality

Live streaming is one of the most data-intensive activities you can do, and it only scales up depending on the quality of your stream. Most platforms suggest upload speeds of between 2Mbps and 15Mbps for a good quality live stream at up to 1080p. If you’re looking to stream on YouTube at 4K however, then you may need to double that.

As always, remember that your connection will be doing more than just the live stream at the same time. If you’re streaming yourself gaming in particular, you’re going to want a solid buffer around the top end of the speed needed for your chosen video quality. For live streaming, we would recommend opting for the higher intensity NBN plans where possible. Consider NBN 100 with 40Mbps upload, NBN 250 with 25Mbps upload, or NBN 1000 with 50Mbps upload speeds.

These are the cheapest plans with at least 25Mbps upload speed.

Upload and download speeds on NBN tiers

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.

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.

Plan
Max download speed
Max upload speed
Upload percentage vs download

NBN 12

12Mbps

1Mbps

8.33%

NBN 25

25Mbps

10Mbps

20%

NBN 50

50Mbps

20Mbps

40%

NBN 100

100Mbps

40Mbps

40%

NBN 250

250Mbps

25Mbps

10%

NBN 1000

1000Mbps

50Mbps

5%

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 or HFC connections only.

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.

Anula Wiwatowska
Written by
Anula Wiwatowska
Anula is the Content and Social Media Editor within the Reviews.org extended universe. Working in the tech space since 2020, she covers phone and internet plans, gadgets, smart devices, and the intersection of technology and culture. Anula was a finalist for Best Feature Writer at the 2022 Consensus Awards, and an eight time finalist across categories at the IT Journalism Awards. Her work contributed to WhistleOut's Best Consumer Coverage win in 2023.

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